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Local voices on COVID-19: We want to hear your COVID questions

May 19, 2021 04:50PM ● By Editor
By Hannah Miller, Sawtooth Mountain Clinic from Cook County MN - May 19, 2021

This article is the third in a series intended to give some local perspective on issues about COVID-19. They are also intended to help readers make an informed decision about the COVID-19 vaccines. We encourage suggestions for future topics and you can see how to do so at the end of the article.

In my role as parent-child health nurse at Sawtooth Mountain Clinic, I frequently get to have conversations with expectant families that want clear information about the COVID-19 vaccines. I’ll share here some discussion on topics that I know are on people’s minds as they navigate this decision.

Pregnant and lactating people weren’t included in the original research that led to the release of the vaccine. Do we know anything new yet?

Yes, we know more! And the new data is encouraging as we see evidence of pregnant and lactating people safely benefitting from the vaccines. At first, because the initial vaccine trials hadn’t included pregnant and lactating individuals, decisions about offering the vaccine to these groups had to be based on what was known about how the vaccines work and inference from other vaccines that are safe and effective during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Now, people deciding about vaccination for their pregnancies have the advantage of additional data and research that contributes to this understanding. A couple of recent studies stood out to me, one I’ll highlight here because of its huge number of participants.

Among the first waves of vaccination for front-line workers, many were pregnant and participated in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-led follow-up system known as “v-safe,” where they could report on their health and the status of their pregnancy. Data from 35,691 pregnant individuals who participated in this tracking were analyzed and released in April, providing additional reassurance about COVID-19 vaccine safety in pregnancy. Common concerns like pregnancy loss and preterm birth were especially considered, and these issues didn’t occur with any greater frequency than would normally be expected. 

Is it better to wait until after I’ve given birth to become vaccinated?

Likely not, for a couple of reasons. Pregnancy puts a person more at risk for severe illness and death from coronavirus infection, so waiting until after you’ve given birth to receive the vaccine misses an opportunity to get the vaccine’s protection when you might need it the most. Vaccination during or before pregnancy can provide an additional protective immunity to the baby that the infant will carry even after birth. Early milk, or colostrum, which is available to the baby only during the first days of life, has the highest content of antibodies and whole immune cells of any milk. Maternal immunity is likely to be better transferred through human milk at this time than any other during the breastfeeding journey, though it continues to be a significant source of immune protection throughout. 

Is there a preference for trimester when it comes to getting vaccinated?

This is unlikely to be a factor, though it’s something to consider. Persistent, high fevers are of concern as a potential risk to the fetus in the first trimester, and many people have questions about fever as a side effect to the vaccine. It is rare for a vaccine to induce an immune response including a fever that would be problematic. In the initial trials in the general population, up to 15% of people reported mildly elevated temperature and only 1% with a high fever over 102 degrees. More recent research published this month studied COVID-19 vaccination in pregnant individuals and observed significantly lower incidence of fever among those where were pregnant than nonpregnant at the time of vaccination. 

How is vaccination going to affect my birth and recovery experience? 

Many people find the support of family and friends in the early postpartum recovery period essential to adapting to their new joys and challenges. Vaccination of expectant parents and their support team can ease this transition by allowing help to be rendered safely during that time of nesting.

Decisions that affect your personal, family and community health require not just information, but support! Maybe you had some of these questions, but want to learn more. Wherever you are in the journey, you can expect confidentiality and support for you to reach your own health goals by reaching out to Sawtooth Mountain Clinic at 218-387-2330 or Grand Portage Health Services at 218-475-2235.  

Hannah Miller has a master’s degree in nursing and is a public health nurse. She lives in Grand Marais and provides parent-child public health nursing to the community through Sawtooth Mountain Clinic in the form of perinatal education, family home visiting and Women, Infants and Children — a nutrition and breastfeeding program.

Each article in this series will be written by someone here in Cook County. Next week’s Q&A topic is on teens and the COVID-19 vaccine. To submit a question, email [email protected] or call 218-387-3605. No question is too controversial. You can be assured that your questions will be kept anonymous.

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