COVID-19 Vaccines: Your Questions about Fertility and Pregnancy

MSK surgeon Emeline Aviki getting vaccinated

MSK gynecologic surgeon Emeline Aviki receives her first COVID-19 shot in December. Dr. Aviki was 24 weeks pregnant at the time. Photo courtesy Emeline Aviki

There has been a lot of confusing and conflicting information about whether vaccines for COVID-19 are safe for people who are trying to get pregnant, are already expecting or are breastfeeding. Our experts at Memorial Sloan Kettering are monitoring all the latest studies about these important concerns. Here are answers to some common questions, so you can make the best decision for yourself and your family.

Are the vaccines safe for pregnant women?

The early clinical trials of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines did not include people who were pregnant or breastfeeding. Unfortunately, those groups are often excluded in drug research.

Studies of the COVID-19 vaccines on pregnant rats did not identify any safety concerns or find any adverse effects on female reproduction, fetal development, or even on development after delivery. This research led to the decision to offer the vaccine to people who are pregnant. Many other vaccines that are known to be safe, including the flu vaccine, are regularly recommended to people who are pregnant.

That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises pregnant women be given the opportunity to decide for themselves whether to be vaccinated, ideally after talking to their healthcare provider.

Last week, a statement from the World Health Organization raised concerns, but the WHO has now revised its position, stating “based on what we know about this kind of vaccine, we don’t have any specific reason to believe there will be specific risks that would outweigh the benefits of vaccination for pregnant women.”

Gynecologic surgeon Deborah Goldfrank

Gynecologic surgeon Deborah Goldfrank

MSK recommends the vaccine for pregnant employees directly involved in patient care. “Healthcare workers are at higher risk for getting infected,” says Deborah Goldfrank, Head of General Gynecology. “Pregnant women appear to be at greater risk of more severe illness from COVID-19, so it’s important they talk to their healthcare provider about the benefits of being protected by the vaccine. Women should be able to make this choice for themselves.”

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists agrees, saying that the decision should be up to expectant mothers.

There is new evidence that suggests a potential benefit for the unborn children of women who get the vaccine. A study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics recently reported that the majority of women who became infected with COVID-19 during pregnancy passed antibodies to their babies. The research also suggests those who get vaccinated while pregnant could share antibodies with their babies that might protect them after birth, but more studies are needed to confirm this.

Back to top

Why is COVID-19 more dangerous for people who are pregnant?

According to the CDC, people who are pregnant and contract COVID-19 are at higher risk of serious complications, including being admitted to the ICU, needing a breathing tube, and even death. They may also be at higher risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes such as premature birth.

Back to top

Should breastfeeding mothers be vaccinated?

Vaccines cause the body to produce antibodies that help the immune system fight the disease. Through breastfeeding, a mother’s antibodies can be passed in breast milk to their babies to boost their immune systems. This is one reason doctors recommend breastfeeding. This is a potential benefit for nursing women who get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Based on all current evidence, the COVID-19 vaccine is believed to be safe for breastfeeding women and their children. In fact, it is believed to be potentially beneficial.

Furthermore, a mother or baby will not contract COVID-19 from the vaccine because it does not contain any live virus.

COVID-19 Vaccine Information for Patients
Learn what you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccines if you are an MSK patient.
Back to top

Can COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility in women?

Despite alarming rumors spreading on social media, there is no data suggesting that COVID-19 vaccination impacts fertility. The approved COVID-19 vaccines do not contain live virus. According to fertility specialists, these vaccines are not thought to increase the risk of infertility, first or second trimester miscarriages, stillbirth, or any birth defects.

Back to top

Is male fertility affected by the vaccines?

There is currently no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines cause male infertility.

Back to top

Should people who are pregnant or breastfeeding wait to get a COVID-19 vaccine?

For some, it may be safe to wait to get vaccinated. This includes people who are able to regularly social distance and work from home, don’t come into contact with people who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19, or don’t have any other conditions putting them at higher risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19. State eligibility requirements vary, and the vaccine may not even be available to all people who are pregnant or breastfeeding right now.

However, anyone who is a healthcare worker or has another job with a high risk of exposure to COVID-19 should strongly consider getting vaccinated as soon as the vaccine becomes available to them.

The CDC has created a registry to monitor vaccine safety, called V-Safe. Pregnant women can enroll by clicking on this link.

March 2, 2021

Additional Resources

Back to top