COVID-19 Vaccine

(Date: July 2021. Version: 2)

This factsheet has been written for members of the public by the UK Teratology Information Service (UKTIS). UKTIS is a not-for-profit organisation funded by Public Health England on behalf of UK Health Departments. UKTIS has been providing scientific information to health care providers since 1983 on the effects that medicines, recreational drugs and chemicals may have on the developing baby during pregnancy.

What are COVID-19 vaccines?

COVID-19 vaccines are recommended in pregnancy. Vaccination is the best way to protect against the known risks of COVID-19 in pregnancy for both women and their babies

Four COVID-19 vaccines are currently approved for use in the United Kingdom (Pfrizer/BioNTech, University of Oxford/AstraZeneca, NIH/Moderna and Janssen). It is currently advised that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are preferable for pregnant women in the UK.

None of the COVID-19 vaccines contain live coronavirus, and therefore vaccination cannot give you COVID-19. COVID-19 vaccines train your immune system to recognise the ‘spike’ protein that is on the outside of the COVID-19 virus and to fight off the infection.

What are the benefits of having the COVID-19 vaccine in pregnancy?

Vaccination reduces the chance of becoming unwell from COVID-19. Pregnant women are at higher risk of developing severe complications if they become infected, particularly in late pregnancy. COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing COVID-19 infection.

Are there any risks with having the COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy?

Information about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy is increasing all the time. Before vaccines are made available, they are tested in pregnant animals. All of the COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the UK have been given to pregnant rats. There were no vaccine-related effects on female fertility, pregnancy, or the rat pup’s development (either in the womb or after birth). Although this information cannot be reliably used to prove safety in human pregnancy, it is reassuring.

Information about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in human pregnancy is now available from several countries, with more than 5,400 completed pregnancies reported. These women mainly received the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines in the third trimester. Pregnant women do not appear to get more adverse reactions to the vaccine than non-pregnant women. Reassuringly, pregnancy problems such as stillbirth, preterm delivery, problems with the baby’s growth, and the risk of the baby dying within two weeks after birth were not increased in women receiving the vaccine during pregnancy.

There is less information about the safety of vaccination in early pregnancy. However, problems are not expected. Other vaccines that work in a similar way are often given in pregnancy without any issues (e.g. influenza or flu, and pertussis or whooping cough vaccines). There is no known risk with using non-live, weakened or non-replicating vaccines in pregnancy, and all of the COVID-19 vaccines being used in the UK are non-live, weakened or non-replicating.

Are there any alternatives to having a COVID-19 vaccination in pregnancy?

Currently there are no effective alternative treatment options to stop you getting, or reduce your risk of getting COVID-19.

What if I prefer not to have a COVID-19 vaccination in pregnancy?

Studies of unvaccinated pregnant women have shown that they were more likely to have severe COVID-19. Those who developed symptoms and needed hospital treatment were more likely to need intensive care treatment. They were also more likely to have a stillborn baby or give birth prematurely.

Given the high number of people infected with COVID-19 in the UK, and as unvaccinated pregnant women are a group at increased risk of severe COVID-19, vaccination is recommended for all pregnant women.

How can I help with research?

It is important that we collect as much information as quickly as possible. If you are living in the UK and were given the vaccine before 31st March 2021 whilst you were pregnant, even if you didn’t know this at the time, you can report your pregnancy to us via telephone (0344 892 0909, available 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday). If you received the vaccine after 31st March and informed the vaccination centre that you were pregnant then you don’t need to do anything further. Your pregnancy will be securely monitored by Public Health England (PHE) using NHS and GP records.

What is the latest guidance about COVID-19 vaccination in pregnancy?

All the latest advice about COVID-19 in pregnancy is available from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists here.

The Royal College of Midwives have produced an information leaflet about COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy which is available here.

Public Health England have published advice which is available here.

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General information 

Up to 1 out of every 5 pregnancies ends in a miscarriage, and 1 in 40 babies are born with a birth defect. These are referred to as the background population risks.  They describe the chance of these events happening for any pregnancy before taking factors such as the mother’s health during pregnancy, her lifestyle, medicines she takes and the genetic make up of her and the baby’s father into account.

Medicines use in pregnancy

Most medicines used by the mother will cross the placenta and reach the baby. Sometimes this may have beneficial effects for the baby.  There are, however, some medicines that can harm a baby’s normal development.  How a medicine affects a baby may depend on the stage of pregnancy when the medicine is taken. If you are on regular medication you should discuss these effects with your doctor/health care team before becoming pregnant.

If a new medicine is suggested for you during pregnancy, please ensure the doctor or health care professional treating you is aware of your pregnancy.

When deciding whether or not to use a medicine in pregnancy you need to weigh up how the medicine might improve your and/or your unborn baby’s health against any possible problems that the drug may cause. Our bumps leaflets are written to provide you with a summary of what is known about use of a specific medicine in pregnancy so that you can decide together with your health care provider what is best for you and your baby.   

Every pregnancy is unique. The decision to start, stop, continue or change a prescribed medicine before or during pregnancy should be made in consultation with your health care provider. It is very helpful if you can record all your medication taken in pregnancy in your hand held maternity records.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to replace the individual care and advice of your health care provider. New information is continually becoming available. Whilst every effort will be made to ensure that this information is accurate and up to date at the time of publication, we cannot cover every eventuality and the information providers cannot be held responsible for any adverse outcomes following decisions made on the basis of this information. We strongly advise that printouts should NOT be kept for any length of time, or for “future reference” as they can rapidly become out of date.

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