With the rollout of new coronavirus vaccines in the United States, an end to the pandemic is in sight. But first, federal health officials must manage a mass vaccination program, giving shots to as many of the country’s 260 million adults as are willing to get it. Reporters from The New York Times sorted through more than 4,000 questions submitted by readers, and answered the most common and interesting ones about getting the vaccine and what to expect.
Is the vaccine safe for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding?
The vaccines have not been tested in pregnant women or in those who were breastfeeding. The CDC’s advisory committee has urged pregnant women to consult with their obstetricians and pediatricians about whether to get the vaccine.
The World Health Organization, which had previously opposed vaccination for pregnant women, recently shifted its guidance and said pregnant women may get the vaccine. “Based on what we know about this kind of vaccine, we don’t have any specific reason to believe there will be specific risks that would outweigh the benefits of vaccination for pregnant women,” the WHO said. The agency also has said breastfeeding women can be vaccinated and continue nursing after getting the vaccine.
Most experts agree that the risks to pregnant women from COVID are far greater than any theoretical harm from the vaccines. “There are no documented risks to the fetus, there’s no theoretical risks, there’s no risk in animal studies” from the vaccines, said Dr. Anne Lyerly, a bioethicist at the University of North Carolina.
Since the 1960s, pregnant women have been urged to receive vaccines against influenza and other diseases. These women are generally cautioned against live vaccines, which contain weakened viruses — but the new COVID vaccines do not contain live virus. Pfizer said it will test its vaccine in pregnant women over the next few months.
Will pregnant women be given priority to get the vaccine?
Pregnancy is on the list of conditions identified by the CDC that put a person at high risk of becoming seriously ill or dying from COVID-19. However, whether a pregnant woman is now eligible for vaccination depends on the rules in the state where she lives. In most states, pregnant women probably will be eligible for vaccination before the general population, but some will have to wait a little longer. In Texas, for instance, pregnant women are now eligible, but other states don’t list pregnant women as a priority group. Eligibility can change overnight, so check your state health department website.
Will partners of pregnant women be given priority for getting the vaccine?
No. Partners of pregnant women will not get to cut the line and will have to wait until their age or risk group becomes eligible.
Should I wait to conceive until after I get the vaccine?
Obstetricians recommend being up-to-date on all vaccines before pregnancy, so it’s a good idea to get the vaccine as soon as you are eligible and can get an appointment. COVID-19 poses an especially high risk to pregnant women, so ideally you should get vaccinated before you become pregnant.
The challenge for women of childbearing age is that most are not in the priority age groups scheduled to get the vaccine first. If the timing of your pregnancy does not matter to you, then it’s up to you if you prefer to get vaccinated first. But lack of access to the vaccine now should not be a reason to delay your pregnancy, experts say.