Abrar Al Bastaki was 16-weeks pregnant when she decided on getting vaccinated against COVID-19. She had spent the past few weeks scared about the effect it might have on the embryo.
She needn’t have worried. Dr Muna Tahlak, CEO of Latifa Hospital for Women and Children, part of Dubai Health Authority, explains that the vaccine is perfectly safe for pregnant women and even for those who are considering conception. “Women who are breastfeeding as well as those who are planning to conceive can take the mRNA vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech). Clinical studies show that the mRNA vaccine is safe for women who are breastfeeding or are planning to conceive unless the patient has certain medical contraindications to vaccines or any vaccine component.”
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Abrar says she was “planning to get the vaccine as soon as it was out. Most of my family took it in January 2021 and December 2020. What happened was I found out was pregnant before my appointment.”
And so she began to do her research; she read about studies that looked at the possible effects of the vaccine on babies that were still in the womb and they seemed safe; no miscarriages had been reported. Then she looked at studies that said that pregnancy may nudge a woman into the high-risk category. And she developed gestational diabetes and she knew she now was high risk.
After speaking to doctors who recommended a Pfizer shot, she says, “I compared the worst-case scenarios.”
Al Bastaki’s fears were centred around her four children. “The worst thing that could happen if I don’t take the vaccine,” says the32-year-old, “is that something happens to me and my children have to live their life without their mother.”
Follow medicine and science; do your research. [Then] speak to the doctors and then follow your heart.
She says other than sore arms and a headache, she had no side-effects. “My sister, brother, husband had worse side-effects,” she laughs.
She went to her gyneacologist after each dose, she says, just to make sure everything was alright with the baby. Now, at 33 weeks pregnant, Al Bastaki says, “Everything is fine.”
The vaccine doesn’t mean you won’t get the virus, but it certainly dulls the infection’s blade of symptoms. Ayesha Al Muhairi, a 28-year-old Emirati mum of two, got this lesson first-hand when her five-year-old daughter contracted the virus in July. Al Muhairi recalls in an interview with Gulf News that she was worried because she was looking after her daughter through the illness. A PCR test confirmed her fears – it came back positive. “I took the vaccine [back in March] because our government advised us to take the vaccine so we listened to the rules and took the vaccine,” she says.
However, she says, her bout of COVID wasn’t as bad as all that – she lost her sense of taste alright, but she had little fever through it all, and her husband didn’t catch the virus either. (Her one-year-eight-month old son, whom Al Muhairi is breastfeeding, did contract the infection, but that wasn’t so severe either.)
Almost a month later, she says, they are all “doing fine”.
“I’m around a lot of breastfeeding mums like me,” she says, "and we are all fine after the vaccine."
“Mothers who are breastfeeding can take an mRNA vaccine and there’s no need to stop breastfeeding before or after vaccination,” Dr Tahlak confirms.
Protection for yourself
Penelope Uy Kindipan, who has a month-old child and twins who are three, is a nurse. The 36-year-old Filipina says her job puts her in a high-risk environment on a daily basis and so not getting vaccinated was not an option for her. “I want to be protected and I want my kids to be protected – I work as a nurse and whenever I will go back to work I might get infected and bring the disease home.
“Get vaccinated for your family’s protection and your protection as well, she advises other mums. Al Muhairi echoes this sentiment. “I advise them to get vaccinated – each mother should get the shot because it will not affect her child,” she says.
Al Bastaki meanwhile calls on mums to follow medicine and science; do your research, she urges. “[Then] speak to the doctors and then follow your heart.”
“If you don’t take the vaccine, be very careful. From what I hear, it’s [COVID's impact is] very dangerous in pregnancy,” she adds.
Doctor: 'Women who are breastfeeding, those planning to conceive can get vaccinated'
Dr Muna Tahlak, CEO of Latifa Hospital for Women and Children, part of DHA, answers some frequently asked questions on COVID-19 vaccines and breastfeeding mothers and mums-to-be.
Can women who are breastfeeding take the COVID-19 vaccine?
Yes, women who are breastfeeding as well as those who are planning to conceive can take the mRNA vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech). Clinical studies show that the mRNA vaccine is safe for women who are breastfeeding or are planning to conceive unless the patient has certain medical contraindications to vaccines or any vaccine component. Mothers who are breastfeeding can take an mRNA vaccine and there’s no need to stop breastfeeding before or after vaccination.
It is important to understand that COVID-19 vaccines are able to create an immune response without causing the illness and that they do not contain a live virus.
It is not necessary to delay planning a pregnancy until after completing both doses of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard have found that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective in producing antibodies against the COVID-19 virus in pregnant and lactating women. The study also demonstrated that vaccines provide protective immunity to newborns through breastmilk and the placenta. The study was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (AJOG).
Can women who are planning to conceive take the COVID-19 vaccine?
The mRNA vaccination( Pfizer-BioNTech) is also recommended for women who are actively trying to conceive or contemplating pregnancy. It is not necessary to delay planning a pregnancy until after completing both doses of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. Moreover, a routine pregnancy test is not recommended prior to receiving the vaccine.
What about pregnant women? Can they take the vaccine?
Yes, they can take the mRNA vaccine ( Pfizer-BioNTech) after the first 13 weeks of pregnancy. Before taking the vaccine, pregnant women, especially those with underlying health conditions, should consult with a specialist doctor who has been monitoring their pregnancy. The vaccination will be administered in two doses.