MILLVILLE — As COVID-19 vaccinations become more widely available, many pregnant women are wondering if it's a safe option for them and their baby. One expecting mother in Cache Valley shares the process she followed to make her decision.
"See and this one says, "It's a boy!" Sarah Fitzgerald said to her 2-year-old son as she showed him her ultrasound photos.
The Fitzgerald family is eager to welcome another little boy to their family on May 25. "So excited! Honestly, I wanted another little boy," Sarah said. "I just wanted little buddies that could play with each other."
Though the news was at first hard for 2-year-old Liam to understand, Sarah and her husband Adam Fitzgerald say he is starting to get more excited. "The more we talk about it and the more that he sees mom's belly is getting bigger and everything, he's getting really excited," she described.
Sarah Fitzgerald works at Intermountain Healthcare's Logan Regional Hospital. She was offered the COVID-19 vaccine last week.
"It was definitely one of the harder decisions I've had to make," she explained.
"I had some blood pressure issues at the beginning of everything, which actually did factor into my decision about wanting to get the COVID vaccine," Fitzgerald said. "That actually put me in the category of a high-risk pregnancy."
After thorough research, weighing the pros and cons, and consulting with four different providers, Fitzgerald decided to get the vaccine.
"Ultimately, I decided the risk of me getting COVID was a lot higher than any adverse reaction I might have to the vaccine," she said. "For me, I knew that it was probably just going to be the best decision and my husband and I talked about it."
"My OB/GYN just said, 'If you have the opportunity to take it, I would,'" Sarah Fitzgerald added. After seeing other pregnant women get the vaccine, she felt more comfortable moving forward.
"After the first shot, I felt absolutely fine. I still have to get the second shot in a couple weeks," she said. "Knowing that I have these antibodies that are building up in my body already has given me a ton of peace of mind."
Intermountain Healthcare's Dr. Sean Esplin, senior medical director for women's health, says as people weigh their decision, pregnant women are at an increased risk for COVID-related complications. "There's a little bit more urgency for a pregnant woman to protect herself," he said.
While Esplin says that risk is still small (about 5%), he says it's an important factor to consider.
"If you're pregnant and you do get COVID, you're at slightly higher risk of having a more severe course (of COVID during) the pregnancy — so a little higher chance of being admitted to the hospital or needing even to go to the intensive care unit," he explained. "You're at high risk of having a blood clot, you're at high risk of having preterm delivery … we've seen more premature rupture of membranes, we've see more preterm birth."
He encourages every pregnant woman to assess her personal risk of contracting COVID-19 or risk of having a severe case of COVID-19. "I think it's right for every woman to talk to her midwife or their physician and kind of make a personal decision about what are the risks for them and what are the benefits," Esplin said.
He says pregnant women who work in the public like teachers or health care workers or women with risk factors like asthma, diabetes, hypertension or other high-risk medical conditions should probably take the vaccine.
Esplin says about 30 pregnant women were included in the U.S. trials for COVID-19 inadvertently because they didn't know they were pregnant at the time. He says pregnant women are typically not included in trials because it adds another variable and that can make it more difficult to separate out the results.
The pregnant women who were in the COIVD-19 vaccine trials didn't have any unexpected side effects or problems.
While there still hasn't been much research on this vaccine during pregnancy, Esplin says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, American College of OBGYN, and Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine recommend the vaccine be made available to pregnant women. These organizations also encourage women to discuss their situation with their provider before moving forward. They agree that in most cases there is no reason for pregnant women to not receive the vaccine.
"We're gathering more and more information and I think at this point there are no concerns that we have with the vaccine and has been given to more than 10,000 women," Esplin said. "This additional information that's coming in just makes it more and more reasonable for people to say, 'I'm going to I'm going to take the vaccine.'"
Esplin believes it's safe for women to get the vaccine at any point during pregnancy. "At this point, we don't see any increased risk from having the shot early in the pregnancy versus late in the pregnancy. We don't see a difference in efficacy either," he said.
"We know that this particular type of vaccine — the mRNA vaccine — should be very low risk based on the way it works," Esplin reassured, adding that the mRNA code doesn't cross the placenta.
Esplin urges women to consult their provider and assess their own individual risk based on exposure to COVID-19 and medical conditions.
"We haven't seen complications from the vaccine at this point in pregnant women," he said. "If your goal is to do everything you can to have the best outcome for your baby, it likely favors having the vaccine."
Sarah Fitzgerald felt getting vaccinated was safest for both her and her baby. "I felt that this decision was going to be the best way to protect him," she said.
Fitzgerald looks forward to the day she will have another baby in her arms. "I think that being a mom is probably one of the greatest callings you can get in life. It comes with its challenges, like anything else, but I wouldn't trade it for anything," she said.
Esplin says in other vaccinations like influenza, it's clear that antibodies cross to the baby through the placenta or through breast milk. While doctors assume this is also likely what happens with the COVID-19 vaccine, it still needs to be confirmed.
He tells women to expect typical side effects if they get the vaccine, such as a sore arm, body aches, fever, fatigue, or headache which demonstrate the vaccine is working. Esplin says it's safe for women to take Tylenol to manage these side effects. He also encourages women who get vaccinated to still wear a mask, practice social distancing, and good hand hygiene to further reduce their risk of getting COVID-19.
Esplin warns women who do choose to get the COIVD-19 vaccine to wait at least two weeks before they get any other immunizations. "We are concerned that if someone gets another vaccine within 14 days of actually receiving the COVID vaccine that it may affect how effective the COVID vaccine is," he said.
Thursday, Pfizer-BioNTech announced it will begin clinical trials of its COVID-19 vaccine in pregnant women. It will be the first of its kind in the United States and will enroll about 4,000 pregnant women from various countries. Pfizer says some of the women will get the real shots, while others will get a placebo. They will only be notified which they received after they deliver their baby.