As data on COVID-19 vaccine’s effect on pregnancy remains limited, UCLA nurse discusses decision: Virus ‘scared me more’

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The coronavirus pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty and worries among vulnerable populations, including pregnant people. 

During her pregnancy, UCLA Health oncology nurse Courtney Dyke has closely followed information about COVID-19.

“As a pregnant mother, especially since this is my first child, you know, you’re paranoid about every decision you make,” said Dyke.

After much thought, Dyke decided to receive the Pfizer vaccine at 11 weeks into her pregnancy.

“If I wasn’t pregnant, it would have been a hesitation,” she said. “Originally I considered not getting the vaccine.”

It’s a tough decision shared by many expectant mothers like Dyke, who is now 14 weeks pregnant.

After careful research and discussions with her primary doctor, she decided to get the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine this past Monday. 

“But reading the research on how COVID affects mothers that are pregnant scared me more,” Dyke said.

Despite being an at-risk population, pregnant women were excluded from the early phases of COVID trials, so there’s not enough data. Because of that, the World Health Organization does not recommend the vaccination of pregnant women at this time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on the other hand, say it’s a personal choice.

Dr. Yalda Afshar, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UCLA, said women are given a dilemma when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We don’t have data —  [women] weren’t included in the trials, but then we’re balancing the best evidence that we have,” Afshar said. “We know it’s an mRNA vaccine, so it’s messenger RNA. It’s not a live vaccine. And there’s truly no biological plausibility that it could cause harm.”

Afshar said, however, pregnant patients with COVID-19 are at an increased risk for severe illness.

“You’re carrying a fetus. You have changes in your physiology, in your heart rate, in your respiratory or lung function and in your immune function,” Afshar said. “And we think that that predisposes you to more severe disease and probably a higher risk of getting [COVID-19] than the nonpregnant.”

For Dyke, however, the biggest concern was vaccine side effects.

Even though pregnant women were not included in clinical trials, some did become pregnant while participating in the studies. Vaccine manufacturers are following those outcomes.

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