While the Biden administration is turning to COVID-19 vaccine mandates in the name of helping people, Americans would be better off with more data to make the right decisions for themselves and their families.
Take those who are pregnant. As of Sept. 25, a third of the pregnant population ages 18-49 was fully vaccinated (32%), according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 10.7% were fully vaccinated prior to pregnancy, while only 18.9% chose to get fully vaccinated while pregnant.
Compare this with the two-thirds of the general population at least 18 years old who are fully vaccinated.
As pregnant women ourselves, we aren’t taking the vaccination decision lightly. We’ve looked at the available data, asked questions and received mixed messages during the span of our pregnancies.
No clarity on vaccines and pregnancy
Pregnant women were not enrolled in clinical trials for the vaccines. From when the vaccine became available until Aug. 11, the CDC did not explicitly recommend it during pregnancy, instead encouraging people to weigh the risks.
This April, the CDC actually walked back a recommendation made by the agency’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, that pregnant women get vaccinated.
Similarly, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine didn’t recommend it until July 30.
Today, expecting mothers appear to be included in President Joe Biden’s sweeping vaccine mandates.
The speed at which the vaccine was developed is incredible, but this also means we don’t have long-term studies, leading to some uncertainty among pregnant women. The lower vaccination rate in the pregnant population, including just 14.4% of Black people ages 18-49 who have received at least one shot while pregnant, signals pregnant individuals don’t have the data to feel confident in getting vaccinated.
With its Aug. 11 recommendation, the CDC released new data and an analysis that found the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines do not increase the risk of miscarriage. While encouraging, this research addressed only one of the concerns expressed by pregnant women.
In addition to initial worries about miscarriage, there are concerns about the long-term possible impact on babies, women’s fertility and women’s menstruation.
In fact, as tens of thousands of women report unusual menstruation after vaccination, the National Institutes of Health announced funding on Aug. 30 for grants to study potential links between COVID-19 vaccination and menstrual changes – one week after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
The CDC owes us more answers
It is urgent to collect more data and share it. While the CDC reports that there have been 161 deaths among the 125,250 pregnant women with COVID-19 from Jan. 22, 2020, to Sept. 27, 2021, it provides no information about their vaccine status, if they had previously contracted COVID-19, or other relevant details about their medical history.
Right now there are two categories (though boosters may change this) – fully vaccinated or not. More data could add a third – those who decide to get one dose. For those who are pregnant who haven’t received any doses, this might appear to be a less risky, more appealing approach since it could give individuals much of the protection while possibly exposing them to a lower dose of the unknowns.
As neither doctors nor medical experts, we don’t know how effective a “one shot” strategy might be. However, we know that the risks COVID-19 poses to pregnant people and their babies are serious, and that the majority of pregnant individuals haven’t been persuaded to get vaccinated by public health experts.
Given the length of pregnancy and the need to follow babies and mothers for months and years after birth, it’s impossible to address all of the vaccine safety questions pregnant people have in the short term. But at this stage of the pandemic with so many pregnant individuals still deciding against getting vaccinated, there is no excuse for the CDC, which has 21,000 employees and contractors and a $15 billion annual budget, not to produce research at least related to getting one shot. Beyond pregnant individuals, this could help others struggling with the decision.
Traditionally, societies seek to protect the most vulnerable first. Babies, children and pregnant women are top of the list. To do this, we must ask our leaders to collect and share data, even if that data runs counter to their political narrative.