It's safe for pregnant women to get the Pfizer vaccine

5 min read
Dr Mataroria Lyndon

6 November 2021

Opinion as featured in the New Zealand Herald

Being pregnant is an incredibly special time.

But while exciting, pregnancy can also be stressful - it's perfectly natural to feel exhilarated and petrified at the same time. After all, it's a huge responsibility to bring a new life into the world.

Experience has taught me that every expectant mother wants to do all they can to protect their unborn pēpi so that they are born fit and healthy.

At the same time, I have also learnt that knowing exactly what the right thing to do is can be confusing and, at times, overwhelming.

When you are hapū, you can find yourself bombarded with information from whānau, friends and even strangers, telling you what you should and shouldn't be doing. When you are pregnant, everyone seems to have an opinion!

The Covid pandemic, unfortunately, has thrown even more confusion into the mix, with many pregnant women questioning what exactly the right thing to do is.

Being hapū in a pandemic is scary. You want to do all you can to protect your pēpi. You might find yourself asking whether you should get vaccinated now, or wait until after you have given birth?

I want to make it clear that it is absolutely ok to have these questions.

The good news is that the Pfizer vaccine is safe to have during pregnancy. If you are pregnant, you should get vaccinated.

The Pfizer vaccine teaches our immune system to recognise and fight the virus. It can't give you or your baby Covid because it does not contain the virus. It does not contain a dead or inactivated virus. And it does not contain anything that can affect your DNA.

Better still, the vaccine is gone completely from your body within a few days, leaving your immune system ready for action should you catch Covid.

There is also some evidence that having the vaccine while hapū can help your pēpi fight the virus, with it being likely that unborn babies and infants gain antibodies through cord blood and breast milk.

This is good news, because antibodies help our bodies fight infections.

The risk of an adverse reaction from the Pfizer vaccine is extremely low. The evidence shows that the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks.

Covid is a dangerous virus, especially if you are pregnant.

It is a respiratory disease, and pregnant women are more at risk from respiratory illnesses than non-pregnant women.

Why? Because when you are pregnant, your immune system is more likely to be suppressed. And as your baby grows, your internal organs, including your lungs, have to squeeze into a smaller space to make room for your pēpi.

As a result, it can be more difficult to breathe deeply or clear an infection if you become sick, increasing the likelihood of becoming very sick if you catch a respiratory virus.

Earlier in the year I spoke to Ruthie Nielsen, who caught Covid last year while seven months pregnant.

She developed Covid pneumonia, a severe complication of Covid, and ended up in Middlemore Hospital twice. She couldn't breathe properly and was placed on oxygen. She says it was a terrifying experience.

While the vaccine wasn't available to her last year, her message is clear: Get vaccinated so you don't have to go through what she went through.

Unfortunately, around the world we are seeing many hapū women are still unsure about getting vaccinated, and this reluctance to protect themselves and the pēpi is having tragic consequences.

In the United Kingdom, one in five of that country's most critically ill patients in intensive care are unvaccinated pregnant women. That is a shocking 20 per cent.

The American Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found pregnant women who contract Covid are more at risk of requiring ICU admission and invasive ventilation, and they face a 70 per cent increased risk of death.

Worse, catching Covid while pregnant can impact your pēpi – with pregnant women with Covid having a one in five chance of delivering their baby prematurely, alongside an increased risk of stillbirth.

As of the end of September, there had been 22,000 pregnant women hospitalised in the US and there had been 161 deaths. Ninety-seven per cent of hospitalised pregnant women were unvaccinated.

While these statistics may be alarming, Covid is a serious disease. Being vaccinated is your best protection, protecting not only your own health but that of your baby.

That is why the Ministry of Health recommends urgent action to increase vaccination among people who are pregnant, recently pregnant or who are trying to become pregnant.

If you have questions, please talk to your GP or your midwife, who should be able to answer all your questions. If you still need more information, ask more questions, or talk to another health professional.

It is your right to have all the information you need and to have your concerns addressed.
But please don't wait. With Delta now beginning to spread in Aotearoa we need to act now to protect ourselves, our pēpi and our whānau.

• Dr Mataroria Lyndon is Co-Founder and Clinical Director for Primary Healthcare Provider Tend. He completed his Masters of Public Health at Harvard University and his PhD at the University of Auckland.