ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — A study published recently in The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology shows vaccines may offer some protection for the babies of pregnant and breastfeeding women. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is still limited and uncertain information about its safety for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
This is especially true as it relates to the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which has caused the County of Essex to require pregnant or breastfeeding women to sign waivers before getting vaccinated.
“I was so excited,” said one Essex County mother who wished to remain anonymous. "It was the day I was going to get vaccinated—You know, pass those antibodies onto my babies through my breast milk, put COVID in the past—[but] my excitement turned to panic when I was asked to sign a waiver because I am breastfeeding."
Based on how these vaccines work in the body, CDC experts said they "believe the [vaccines] are unlikely to pose a specific risk for people who are pregnant." However, the CDC also reiterated this week that there is "currently limited data on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant people."
Clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized for use under an Emergency Use Authorization in the United States did not include people who are breastfeeding, according to the CDC website.
Because the vaccines have not been studied on lactating people, the CDC said there is currently no data available on:
- The safety of COVID-19 vaccines in lactating people;
- The effects of vaccination on the breastfed infant; or
- The effects on milk production or excretion.
The waiver being presented to women in Essex County holds the county harmless in the event of the death or illness of the mother or her baby.
“To me, a waiver means no one truly knows the short-term or long-term effects the vaccine could have on my baby," the anonymous mother said. "I could not risk it. Even though I wanted to get vaccinated, encouraged my family to be and my doctor said it was fine, no one truly knows. I left unvaccinated and uneasy.”
The waiver she was presented to sign on the day of her appointment can be seen below.
Trials for pregnant and breastfeeding women are still underway. Pfizer recently began a new trial with 4,000 pregnant women, and the CDC is encouraging women who are with-child and vaccinated to enroll in an informational registry.
Pregnant women who have already received a COVID-19 vaccine are being urged to enroll in v-safe, the CDC's smartphone-based tool that uses text messaging and web surveys to provide personalized health check-ins after vaccination.
"A v-safe pregnancy registry has been established to gather information on the health of pregnant people who have received a COVID-19 vaccine," the CDC said in a statement. "If people enrolled in v-safe report that they were pregnant at the time of vaccination or after vaccination, the registry staff might contact them to learn more."
Since the pandemic began, pregnant and breastfeeding women have had to weigh the decision: to vaccinate or not to vaccinate. Although small, the risk of severe disease or even death from COVID-19 is higher during pregnancy, according to data collected over the last year. Last month, there were more than 82,000 coronavirus infections among pregnant individuals and approximately 90 known maternal deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus in the U.S.