‘You Want Your Immune System Protecting You and Your Baby’

Ob/gyns, a nurse, and a midwife answer FAQs about the COVID-19 vaccine, pregnancy, and fertility

Monica McLemore, PhD, RN, MPH
Photo: Courtesy of The Conversation / La Conversación

When the first COVID-19 vaccines were administered in December 2020, expectant parents had to contend with conflicting information about the vaccines because pregnant people* were excluded from the initial vaccine trials. This ambiguity led some pregnant people to delay getting vaccinated — sometimes to deadly effect.

Today we have much more information about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines, including its safety for people who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American College of Nurse-Midwives, and American Association of Nurse Practitioners all strongly recommend the vaccine for people who are currently or recently pregnant and those who are planning to become pregnant. While the majority of pregnant people are fully vaccinated today, the CDC estimates that one in three pregnant people are still not fully vaccinated.

A new set of videos, part of KFF’s The Conversation / La Conversación public education campaign, features Black and Latinx ob/gyns, a nurse, and a midwife answering FAQs about the COVID-19 vaccine, pregnancy, and fertility. “What I try to explain to patients is that the vaccine is safe and effective at any trimester in their pregnancy,” said Yolanda Tinajero, MD, an ob/gyn at the University of California, San Francisco, who is featured in the campaign. “For me, it’s super important, not only as a health care provider, but because I’m also pregnant and want to make sure that my pregnancy is as safe as possible.”

Another expert in the videos is Monica McLemore, PhD, RN, MPH, an associate professor in UCSF’s family health care nursing department. “You want your immune system protecting you and your baby,” she said. “You don’t want it having to fight off something else.”

The videos are available in English and Spanish.

The new videos come after the National Center for Health Statistics released devastating findings that the US maternal mortality rate rose from 2019 to 2020, with Black birthing people experiencing death rates nearly three times greater than their White and Latinx peers. Experts say some of the deaths can likely be attributed to the pandemic, because pregnant people face an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. In one of the videos, Joia Crear-Perry, MD, founder and president of the National Birth Equity Collaborative (and member of CHCF’s Birth Equity Advisory Group), lays out the risks. “If you are pregnant and contract COVID-19, you’re about six times more likely to be admitted to the ICU, and you’re about four times more likely to have a baby that comes too early,” she said.

Health care workers are the most trusted source for reliable COVID-19 vaccine information, the KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor found, so it’s particularly important for providers to share these videos far and wide. CHCF provided funding for the development and distribution of these new videos and has supported The Conversation / La Conversación since its launch in March 2021.

* We use “pregnant people” and “birthing people” to recognize that not all people who become pregnant and give birth identify as women or mothers.