COVID-19 Vaccine Guidance for Pregnant and Breastfeeding Māmā
The latest COVID-19 vaccine advice for expectant or nursing mothers in New Zealand, from the Immunisation Advisory Centre in New Zealand. This article refers primarily to the Comirnaty (Pfizer/BioNTech) COVID-19 vaccine currently in use in New Zealand. Visit immune.org.nz for more information.
Q: How does the Comirnaty COVID-19 vaccine work?
The Comirnaty COVID-19 messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine contains a small strip of genetic material encased within a lipid (fat) bubble. It does not contain any live virus. Instead, it contains a piece of RNA code that essentially teaches your body to recognise the virus and create new memory. Then, if the body is exposed to the actual virus, it can quickly stop illness or, at least, reduce the severity of the illness.
Messenger RNA does not enter the nucleus of the cell and cannot alter our own genetic material.
Q: How have COVID-19 vaccines been developed so quickly? How can people be certain that the vaccines are safe?
COVID-19 vaccines have been developed at a faster rate than previous vaccines. There are two main reasons for this:
- There has been an amazing international collaborative effort to manage the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been supported by significant financial backing, which has helped overcome roadblocks that have traditionally slowed vaccine development.
- The clinical trials that test the vaccines were able to enrol large numbers of willing participants easily, and because COVID-19 disease is so prevalent, clinical data was able to be collected very quickly.
Safety and effectiveness are the main things tested in these trials. All clinical trials involve an independent safety monitoring committee that oversees safety. As well as these tests of safety, New Zealand has its own testing for all medicines, including vaccines, approved for use in New Zealand. Medsafe is the medical regulatory body that puts medicines through strict review to make sure they meet local and international safety guidelines. Additionally, mass vaccination campaigns involving millions of people are currently underway globally. Safety information on those who have been vaccinated is being consistently and carefully collected and closely monitored. We can be confident that no shortcuts with regards to safety have been taken even though these vaccines have seemingly been produced quickly.
Q: Is the vaccine free to receive in New Zealand?
Yes, the New Zealand Government has directed that the vaccine is free and everyone in New Zealand is eligible.
Q: Can women who are trying to conceive receive the vaccine?
Women trying to become pregnant do not need to avoid pregnancy after receiving the Comirnaty COVID vaccine. It is recommended that a pregnant woman, her whānau and her healthcare professional discuss the risks associated with COVID-19 disease for pregnant women and the growing baby and consider the available safety data of COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy.
Q: Can women who are pregnant receive the vaccine?
Women who are pregnant are encouraged to get a COVID-19 vaccine as part of Group 3 in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout at any stage of their pregnancy.
This advice is based on data from the large number of pregnant people who have already been vaccinated globally showing that there are no additional safety concerns with giving COVID-19 vaccines at any stage of pregnancy.
People who are pregnant can become very sick if they get COVID-19. Vaccinating during pregnancy may also provide protection for the baby against the virus as there’s evidence that antibodies made by the mother after vaccination are shared with the baby in the cord blood and in breast milk.
Q: The data does not indicate that there is any risk to pregnancy, however the vaccine was not initially recommended for pregnant women. Can you explain why?
This is because pregnant women were not included in the initial clinical trials, however international safety data is now accumulating rapidly on the safety for use of this vaccine in pregnant women.
Q:Is there any evidence of increased risk of miscarriage for women who receive the vaccine either before conception or during early pregnancy?
Q: Can women who are breastfeeding receive the vaccine?
Breastfeeding women can receive the Comirnaty COVID-19 vaccine. As with all vaccines on the New Zealand Immunisation Schedule, there are no safety concerns (for mother or infant) about giving the Comirnaty COVID-19 vaccine to breastfeeding women.
Q: Can you get COVID-19 or give your baby COVID-19 by being vaccinated?
No, as the vaccine doesn’t contain any live virus, you cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine. Moreover, a recent study in Israel suggests that protection against the disease is provided through breast milk to babies of mothers who have had the Comirnaty COVID-19 vaccine.
COVID-19 vaccination does not replace the need for simple measures that reduce the risk of disease transmission such as physical distancing, hand-washing and use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, as needed during the relevant alert level/s. For COVID-19 advice in New Zealand, visit covid19.govt.nz.