The pandemic continues to disrupt our lives and leave us with unanswered questions. The COVID-19 vaccine has been widely available in the U.S. for over a year, and you might still be wondering if you and your loved ones should get one. To help clear the air and make the choice a little easier, we’ve compiled the most current information about the COVID vaccine.
As with many other decisions during the pandemic, you’ll have to weigh the benefits against any potential risks (as well as the risks of not getting it) to make the best choice for you and your growing family.
How does it work?
The vaccines teach the body to respond to the COVID-19 virus and essentially help you develop immunity to the virus that causes the disease without actually having to get sick. After receiving the shot, your cells will learn to make copies of the spike protein on the surface of the virus. This will then cause production of T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes (T-cells and B-cells for short), which help your immune system create the necessary antibodies that recognize and inactivate the COVID-19 virus, stopping it from being able to enter your cells, reproduce, and cause illness in the future.
Since it takes a few weeks for your body to produce the necessary T-cells and B-cells, your risk for getting COVID-19 remains elevated until the vaccine has a chance to make enough antibodies. The process of building immunity can cause some symptoms like fatigue and fever, but this is normal and shouldn’t last more than a couple of days. And many people don’t experience any side effects.
Is it safe?
So, how safe is the COVID-19 vaccine? Before any medication, treatment, or vaccine is approved for use in the United States, the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) requires it to go through clinical trials to show that it’s safe and effective. This means the benefits have to outweigh the known or potential risks.
Though the COVID vaccine rolled out relatively quickly due to the urgency of the pandemic, no corners were cut. The data show not only that it’s safe but also that the benefits of getting vaccinated greatly outweigh the potential harm of contracting the virus and spreading it to others.
There are several ongoing safety monitoring systems that look for possible side effects or adverse reactions from the vaccine. In fact, the COVID-19 vaccines are currently the most intensely monitored vaccines in U.S. history.
While there was a pause in the use of the concern about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to a very rare risk of dangerous blood clots in the setting of low platelets, distribution has now resumed. The CDC and FDA have determined the risk of this condition, called thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome or TTS, is extremely low while the risk of severe COVID-19 disease remains much higher. Thus, the benefits far outweigh the risk of getting this vaccine. Because this adverse event occurs most commonly in women 50 years old and younger, those in this group may choose to get the alternative mRNA vaccines that do not carry this same risk.
There have been reports of inflammation of the heart muscle or the area surrounding the heart in adolescents and young adults who have received the mRNA COVID vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. The CDC and FDA have acknowledged this increased risk in males younger than 30 and ongoing studies are underway to determine the long-term effects of this adverse event. Thankfully, to date, most cases of this inflammation (myo or pericarditis) have responded well to treatment.
The CDC continues to recommend that all those 5 year old and up get the vaccine as the risk of developing this adverse reaction is much smaller than the risk of contracting COVID-19. Vaccine side effects for children are mild. The most common one is a sore arm.
What about for pregnant people?
The CDC, ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) recommend that pregnant people get the COVID vaccine. They also recommend it for those who are trying to conceive and to those who are breastfeeding. The vaccine doesn’t contain the virus itself, so it can’t give someone COVID-19. And despite some misconceptions, there’s no evidence that it causes infertility or increases the risk of miscarriage or other problems in pregnancy.
The vaccine has not only been shown to be safe and effective for pregnant people, it is particularly important for this group. Those who are pregnant and do contract the virus have an increased risk of severe illness themselves and an increased risk of preterm delivery.
That said, if you’ve experienced severe allergic reactions to other vaccines in the past or have an underlying health condition, it’s a good idea to chat with your healthcare provider beforehand.
Is it safe for your fetus?
Yes. Some people experience fever and other expected side effects after getting the vaccine. If you experience a high fever for longer than a couple of days while pregnant, we recommend calling your healthcare provider.
What are the benefits?
The most obvious benefit of getting vaccinated is that it can help you not get COVID. Recent studies report that the vaccine effectiveness of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines two weeks after the second dose is 94% and 66.3% two weeks after the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The CDC also says all three of the vaccines reduce your risk of getting seriously sick if you do contract the virus. This is an important benefit as the CDC has reported an increased risk of severe disease in pregnant people who get COVID, including increased risk of preterm birth. More information about that here.
Additionally, there is evidence that babies born to pregnant people who received the vaccine while pregnant have antibodies against COVID-19 at birth, which could be protective against infection.
The Omicron variant has seemed to cause more breakthrough infections in those who are fully vaccinated, but it has also reinforced something we already knew: all three vaccines reduce your risk for getting seriously sick if you do contract the virus.
Beyond your personal health, getting the vaccine can help protect people around you, including those at higher risk of becoming severely ill and those who cannot be vaccinated, like newborns. And outside your closest circle, it may also curb the overall spread of the virus. More vaccinated people means fewer people who are asymptomatic and spreading the virus.
The good news is that the vaccines are protecting people from getting sick and those who do get COVID despite being vaccinated, are much less likely to become seriously ill or die from it. Widespread vaccination is the key to decreasing the number and severity of cases.
What are the risks of not getting the vaccine?
As you’re probably aware, COVID-19 can be serious and even life-threatening, and unfortunately, there’s no way to know how it will affect you. If you do get sick, you could get severely ill and spread it not only to your loved ones but to your community and beyond.
Pregnancy usually calls for somewhat frequent trips to see your healthcare provider. Whether these appointments are at a hospital, birthing center, or elsewhere, it might be harder to avoid contracting the virus than before you became pregnant. Since the effects of COVID could be more serious during pregnancy, getting the vaccine is a way to protect yourself and your growing family.
When should you get vaccinated?
The vaccines are currently available to everyone age 5 and older. Once you have decided to get the vaccine, there is no need to wait until a particular time in your pregnancy. It is considered safe during all three trimesters.
When in doubt, ask your provider. Healthcare might look a little different during the pandemic, but it’s still essential. And you should know that the COVID-19 vaccines are free to everyone regardless of insurance status.
Should I get the COVID-19 booster?
Everyone who is ages 12 and older, including those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now, or might become pregnant in the future, should get a booster shot.
Any recent updates I should know about?
On January 3, 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration amended the emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine in a few ways:
- Expanded the use of a single booster dose for those who are 12-15 years old.
- Shortened the time between the primary vaccine and booster dose to at least five months.
- Allowed for a third primary series dose for certain immunocompromised children 5 through 11 years old.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
Updated March 8, 2022
- “Benefits of Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January 5, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/vaccine-benefits.html.
- “Ensuring the Safety of COVID-19 Vaccines in the United States.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January 19, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety.html.
- “Vaccination Considerations for People who are Pregnant or Breastfeeding.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January 7, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/recommendations/pregnancy.html.
- “COVID-19 Vaccines and Pregnancy.” ACOG. December 21, 2020. https://www.acog.org/en/advocacy/advocacy-and-covid-19/covid-19-vaccines-and-pregnancy.
- “Understanding How COVID-19 Vaccines Work.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January 13, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines/how-they-work.html.
- “When Vaccine is Limited, Who Should Get Vaccinated First?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January 8, 2021.https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/recommendations.html.
- “Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 Vaccination.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January 25, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/faq.html.
- Huma Farid, Babar Memon.“Pregnant and worried about COVID-19?” Harvard Medical School. November 6, 2020. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/pregnant-and-worried-about-covid-19-2020031619212.
- “The Moderna COVID-19 (mRNA-1273) vaccine: what you need to know.” World Health Organization. January 26, 2021. https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/the-moderna-covid-19-mrna-1273-vaccine-what-you-need-to-know.
- “Testing and Vaccine Truths.” American Society for Reproductive Medicine. January 18, 2021. https://www.asrm.org/globalassets/asrm/asrm-content/news-and-publications/covid-19/covidtaskforceupdate12.pdf.