The Youngest Babies Still Can’t Get Vaccinated Against COVID-19, But Maternal Vaccination Can Protect Them
Palmdale mom Sasha Alonso knew she was going to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but she was pregnant when she became eligible for the shot last year and hesitated to sign up.
“What if it has some kind of reaction, and something doesn't develop right?” the mom of three wondered.
Alonso read up on the research and talked to her OB-GYN, primary care doctor and her children’s pediatrician. All of them recommended the vaccine and warned that getting sick with COVID-19 could harm her and the fetus.
“What other way can I protect my children? Well, if this is one way, then I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that I can protect them,” Alonso said.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research published last month affirms that babies born to people vaccinated while pregnant are less likely to get seriously ill after contracting the coronavirus.
About 90% of infants that needed ICU care to treat the virus were born to unvaccinated moms.
Here’s What We Know About Pregnancy And The COVID-19 Vaccine
You might notice this story uses the term "pregnant people." That's because our newsroom uses language in reproductive health that includes people of different genders who can give birth.
Pregnant people are at greater risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19, in part because the body’s immune and respiratory systems function differently. Coronavirus also increases the risk of delivering a preterm or stillborn child, according to the CDC.
Last fall the L.A. County Department of Public Health reportedat least 13,161 pregnant people tested positive for the virus here.
Numerous studies find the coronavirus vaccine is safe for pregnant people and their families.
Among the findings of 23 studies referenced by the CDC:
- Vaccination early in pregnancy does not increase the risk of miscarriage.
- There are no major safety concerns for people who received a Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine late in pregnancy.
- There are no increased risks for pregnancy complications, including preterm birth and stillbirth.
- The vaccine reduced the risk of serious illness from the virus.
How Vaccination During Pregnancy Protects The Baby
Recommending shots during pregnancy isn’t new. Vaccines for diseases like whooping cough and the flu also protect the birthing person and their child.
“Mom makes the antibodies and she gives those antibodies to her baby like a gift,” said study co-author and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles pediatric infectious disease specialist Pia Pannaraj. “And then the baby has that to protect him or her throughout that crucial time period in the first six months of life.”
People can also pass these antibodies to their child through breastfeeding. Babies and toddlers 6 months and older are now eligible for their own coronavirus vaccine.
The study looked at infants admitted to 30 hospitals in 22 states for COVID-19 and other reasons and compared the maternal vaccination rates.
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Researchers found that vaccination during pregnancy reduced the risk that an infant would be hospitalized with COVID-19 by 40% during the spread of the omicron variant and 80% during last year’s delta variant. This tracks with the vaccine's effectiveness in children and adults during those two periods.
The protection for babies was greater for people vaccinated after 20 weeks of gestation compared to those who got the shot earlier in pregnancy, but Pannaraj said anyone who’s pregnant or thinking about it should get the shot as soon as possible.
“I wouldn’t recommend delaying [the] vaccine to a later point,” Pannaraj said. “Because if mom gets COVID, that could have bad outcomes for the baby.”
The study did not examine the impact of maternal vaccination before pregnancy.
One Mom’s Advice On Navigating Your COVID-19 Vaccine Decision
Researchers, doctors and public health experts have urged pregnant people to get vaccinated. Here are examples from the California Department of Public Health, L.A. County Department of Public Health, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and American College of Nurse-Midwives.
The CDC reports almost 30% of pregnant people are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
Misinformation and uncertainty around the shot continues more than a year after the immunization became widely available to adults.
A majority of people pregnant or planning to become pregnant are not confident the vaccine is safe, according to a nationwide survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation released in May.
Sasha Alonso, who gave birth to a healthy baby boy in August, said she’s seen the claims on social media that tie back to someones’ “friend of a friend.”
“Don't listen to the chatter that's going around,” she advises other moms. “Do your research, but keep it to the facts.”
Alonso’s oldest daughter had a liver transplant as a baby, so she’s spent a lot of time in doctor’s offices and shared a few tips.
When Alonso thinks of a question she wants to ask her doctor, she saves a note on her phone immediately so she doesn’t have to think of it on the spot. If she doesn’t get an answer that makes sense, Alonso asks for clarification until she understands.
“If something gets missed, who's it gonna affect? It's gonna affect you,” Alonso said.