Should pregnant women get the coronavirus vaccine? San Antonio doctor discusses possible risks

Dr. Andrea Shields joined Leading SA on Sunday to answer questions on the COVID-19 vaccines

SAN ANTONIO – There are now two vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States to protect against COVID-19.

Vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer are being distributed and administered across the country in a limited supply. But, despite many health care workers having received the vaccine so far, there are still questions looming.

Dr. Andrea Shields practices maternal fetal medicine at the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio and joined Leading SA on Sunday to answer some of the questions surrounding both COVID-19 vaccines.

“I think the first thing to understand about the vaccine is that it’s a killed vaccine, meaning that you can’t get the coronavirus disease from the vaccine itself. And currently, we have two other vaccines that we routinely offer to women in pregnancy. That’s the seasonal flu vaccine and the whooping cough vaccination, and we know those to be very safe for pregnant women and breastfeeding women,” Dr. Shields said. “The second thing I tell my patients is that this vaccine is a messenger RNA vaccine, or an mRNA vaccine. You may have heard about that. It’s a relatively new technology for vaccines. What mRNA does when it’s introduced into your body, it’s like a recipe and it allows your body to make antibodies that fight against the spike protein, which is on the surface of the coronavirus. Later, if you get exposed to the disease or if you get the disease, your body can quickly mount a response of these antibodies to kill off the virus so that you don’t become as severely ill.”

Although there are two FDA-approved vaccines, there are still some limits to the research that’s been conducted so far. Dr. Shields said it is a wait and see when it comes to pregnancy specific studies.

“Unfortunately, the coronavirus vaccine trials did not include pregnant women or breastfeeding women. So we don’t ultimately have the data for safety right now. However, when you’re talking to patients who have high risk conditions such as diabetes and obesity or who are health care workers, first responders or even housekeepers in our local hospitals, all these pregnant women and breastfeeding women are at risk for contracting the coronavirus disease. And so, it ultimately comes down to a shared decision-making between a patient and her provider as to whether or not she would go get the vaccine at this point. The good news is that we do have a planned trial on pregnant and breastfeeding women that should be getting underway shortly. So I’m hopeful that we’ll have more information on safety by next summer,” Dr. Shields said.

Coronavirus can pose serious illness risks for pregnant women. Dr. Shields said the CDC released information over the weekend that discusses the increased risks.

We still have information that’s coming in. But from what we know to date, the SARS-CoV-2virus, which causes coronavirus disease, can cause serious illness in pregnant women. There’s about a threefold risk for hospitalization and admission to the intensive care unit. We know there’s increased rates of mechanical ventilation where we have to put a breathing tube down and breathe for women and an increased risk of going under the heart bypass. And we just had information published by the CDC yesterday that suggests a 70% increased chance of dying from coronavirus disease in pregnancy compared to non-pregnant [women]. Here’s the good news. Despite all these significant risks, there’s only about 8% of women who will actually get severe coronavirus illness in pregnancy,” Dr. Shields said.

You can watch the full interview with Dr. Shields in the video player above.

RELATED: ‘We’re holding to early spring’: UT Health SA doctor says on COVID-19 vaccines being made available to general public


About the Authors:

Max Massey is the GMSA weekend anchor and a general assignments reporter. Max has been live at some of the biggest national stories out of Texas in recent years, including the Sutherland Springs shooting, Hurricane Harvey and the manhunt for the Austin bomber. Outside of work, Max follows politics and sports, especially Penn State, his alma mater.

Cody King is a digital journalist for KSAT 12. She previously worked for WICS/WRSP 20 in Springfield, Illinois.