With so much talk of the new AstraZeneca and BioNTech vaccines that are being rolled out across the UK – and the other Covid vaccines to come – we’re all starting to wonder when the vaccine will be offered to us. But what happens if you’re pregnant? Will you be offered the vaccine? And what about if you’re breastfeeding? Or trying to get conceive?
We’re getting lots of messages from women asking these questions, particularly as the advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ROCG) about having the AstraZeneca or BioNTech vaccine in pregnancy or while breastfeeding has changed a little over the past months.
So here, courtesy of our expert family GP Dr Philippa Kaye, is what we know so far….
Should I have the Covid vaccines if I’m pregnant?
You can have either the BioNTech or the AstraZeneca vaccine in pregnancy if “the potential benefits [of doing so] outweigh the risks”, say experts at the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
What does that mean exactly? According to RCOG’s latest guidelines (February 2021), if you’re currently pregnant, you should probably only consider having the vaccine if:
- Your risk of exposure to the virus is high and cannot be avoided
- You have underlying conditions that place you at a very high risk of complications of COVID-19
So does that mean the vaccine is not safe for pregnant women? No, the official approach is simply one of caution.
“Vaccine trials are not carried out on pregnant women – for obvious reasons,” says Dr Philippa, “so there is, to begin with, little medical data on how any of the new vaccines affect pregnant women.”
More medical data is being collected all the time, as the vaccination programme rolls out and also as separate clinical trials take place studying the effect of Covid vaccines on pregnant women.
But until more can be know from sure – together with the fact that pregnant women are not thought to be at increased risk of developing complications of Covid 19 – the UK’s public-health experts have taken a precautionary, weight-up-each-case-on-its-own approach.
So, if you are called to have either of the Covid vaccines – which in the early rollout (phase 1) of the vaccination programme would only happen if you are on the Priority List for Covid-19 vaccination, either because you are thought to be extremely clinically vulnerable or you are a frontline health or social care worker – you should talk to your midwife or GP and reach a decision together about whether to have the vaccine you are offered or not.
“Do bear in mind,” says Dr Philippa, “that if you are pregnant but not on the Priority List for Covid-19 vaccination, you are unlikely to be offered the vaccine in the first stages of vaccination, as priority will be offered to those at most risk of complications of the infection, starting with the most elderly and vulnerable.”
What if I get pregnant between my 1st and 2nd dose of Covid vaccine? If this happens to you, the official government advice is that you:
- talk to your doctor or nurse
- decide, with their help, whether to go ahead with your 2nd dose or delay it until after your pregnancy is over
Should I have the Covid vaccine if I’m breastfeeding?
Yes, you can.The JCVI advises that breastfeeding women should be offered a Covid vaccine, once they are eligible, as:
“Although the situation is different from if you are pregnant,” says Dr Philippa, “again we don’t have much specific data with regards to the Covid vaccines and breastfeeding.”
What does this mean exactly? What this mean is, if you are breastfeeding and are called to have either of the Covid vaccines – which in the early rollout (phase 1) of the vaccination programme would only happen if you are on the Priority List for Covid-19 vaccination – you will be advised there is lack of safety data for these specific vaccinations in breastfeeding. You may wish to discuss this with your GP before booking your vaccination.
What if I’m trying to conceive?
You can have the vaccine and continue trying to get pregnant. The UK Chief Medical Officers say:
In fact, the RCOG guidelines stress the potential benefits of having the vaccine if you’re trying to conceive: “If you are in one of the groups offered the vaccine, getting vaccinated before pregnancy will help prevent COVID-19 infection and its serious consequences. In some cases, women will need to make a decision about whether to delay pregnancy until after the vaccine becomes available to them.”
About our expert, Dr Philippa Kaye
Dr Philippa Kaye works as a GP in both NHS and private practice. She attended Downing College, Cambridge, then took medical studies at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s medical schools in London, training in paediatrics, gynaecology, care of the elderly, acute medicine, psychiatry and general practice. Dr Philippa has also written a number of books, including ones on child health, diabetes in childhood and adolescence. She is a mum of 3.
Pic: Getty Images
- Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation: advice on priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination. 30 December 2020
- COVID-19 vaccines, pregnancy and breastfeeding: RCOG 11 February 2021
- COVID-19 vaccination: a guide for all women of childbearing age, pregnant or breastfeeding. Public Health England March 2021.
- Pfizer vaccine: no evidence that it affects fertility
- Is the flu jab safe in pregnancy?
- Has your child got Covid, flu or a cold? How to tell and what to do next
- Why getting your child’s vaccinations is more important now than ever
- What’s it like giving birth in a pandemic? New mums tell their labour stories