Vaccine Safety During Pregnancy
Vaccine Basics Expand All
Vaccines train the immune system to attack specific viruses and bacteria. This makes vaccination an important part of preventing infections during pregnancy. Pregnant women and women who are thinking about getting pregnant need certain vaccines. At different points during their lives, babies, children, teens, adults, and seniors all need certain vaccines, too.
Most vaccines are made with inactivated (killed) versions of a pathogen (a virus or bacteria that causes disease). Some vaccines are made with parts of the pathogen or with a killed toxin made by the pathogen. None of these things can cause the disease itself when given as a vaccine. Most vaccines also contain some other ingredients, including
water or other fluids
preservatives and stabilizers
chemicals added to inactivate the virus or bacteria
substances that help create a stronger immune response to the vaccine
small amounts of the material that was used to grow the virus or bacteria
The amounts of these ingredients are very small. All of them are tested extensively to make sure they are safe. You can learn more about these ingredients from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Vaccines are subject to strict safety standards. In the United States, vaccines are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only after thorough research. Testing starts with animals and small groups of human volunteers. Later, vaccines are tested in large clinical trials with thousands of volunteers. If a clinical trial shows that a vaccine is safe and effective, there are a few other safety reviews. Then vaccine experts meet to review the testing results.
Once a vaccine is licensed by the FDA, a committee called the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) at the CDC recommends how best to use it to control disease. This recommendation goes to the CDC director, who reviews and approves the recommendation.
Vaccines and Pregnancy Expand All
Vaccines cause the body to create antibodies. Antibodies are proteins that can identify bacteria and viruses and stop them from entering cells and making a person sick. After a pregnant woman gets a vaccine and her body creates antibodies, some of those antibodies pass to the fetus. This means the fetus will have the antibodies to protect against disease after birth.
Antibodies are a safe, normal reaction to a vaccine. They protect your baby during the first few months of life until your baby can be vaccinated.
Tdap vaccine—This vaccine protects against whooping cough. Tdap vaccines are recommended during each pregnancy.
Flu vaccine—The flu is a serious illness that can be much more severe during pregnancy. You should get a flu vaccine if you are pregnant during flu season (October through May). It is best to get the flu vaccine early in the flu season, as soon as the vaccine is available.
COVID-19 vaccine—COVID-19 is another illness that can be more severe during pregnancy. If you have not already gotten all recommended doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Other vaccines are recommended for adults based on their risk of getting a particular disease. Talk with your obstetrician–gynecologist (ob-gyn) about the vaccines that you have had in the past. Your ob-gyn may recommend vaccines based on your medical history and occupation.
Certain vaccines should not be given during pregnancy because they contain live, attenuated viruses. “Attenuated” means that the virus has been weakened so that it cannot cause disease in a healthy person. The vaccines that women should not get during pregnancy include
live, attenuated flu vaccine given as a nasal spray (but the flu shot is safe)
Also, the vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV) is not a live, attenuated vaccine, but it still should not be given during pregnancy.
Vaccine Safety Expand All
Yes, vaccines are safe for both of you. In fact, vaccination is one of the most important things that you can do to protect your health and your baby’s health. Keep in mind that vaccines have been safely given to millions of pregnant women for more than 50 years.
Yes, there is a tiny amount of mercury (also called thimerosal) in some vaccines. It’s important to understand what thimerosal is and why it may be added. Some vaccines come in single-dose vials. This means just one person gets a vaccine from a vial. Other vaccines come in multidose vials. This means the vial has enough vaccine for more than one person. Vials with more than one dose need to be kept pure. This is where thimerosal comes in. It helps prevent germs from growing in a vial that has multiple doses.
It is safe to get a vaccine that has thimerosal. It is not harmful for pregnant women or fetuses. Thimerosal naturally leaves the body after a vaccine. Thimerosal is safe and has been used in vaccines since the 1930s. Find information about thimerosal and vaccine safety from the CDC.
Some people have no side effects from getting a vaccine. Other people have mild side effects, such as a sore arm or a low fever, that go away within a day or two. Severe side effects and reactions are rare. The CDC monitors reactions for all vaccines given in the United States.
When you get a vaccine, you should get an information sheet that lists the possible side effects associated with that vaccine. If you have ever had a reaction to a vaccine, or if you have concerns about side effects, talk with your ob-gyn.
COVID-19 Vaccines Expand All
Currently there are three types of COVID-19 vaccines: mRNA (Moderna and Pfizer), protein subunit (Novavax), and viral vector (Johnson & Johnson). The mRNA and protein subunit vaccines are recommended for most people.
To understand how vaccines work, it helps to understand the COVID-19 virus. The surface of COVID-19 cells contains a “spike protein.” This protein attaches to and infects healthy cells in the body.
The mRNA and protein subunit vaccines work by teaching your body to fight the spike protein so it cannot bind to healthy cells. There is no live or inactive (killed) virus in the mRNA and protein subunit vaccines.
Viral vector vaccines contain inactive adenoviruses, which are similar to common cold viruses. These inactive viruses have been changed to be like parts of the virus that causes COVID-19. When your body starts to react against the inactive adenovirus, it also learns to protect against the similar parts of the COVID-19 virus. There is no live virus in viral vector vaccines.
These vaccines cannot give you COVID-19. The vaccines do not affect your genes or DNA. There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility or have an impact on pregnancy.
Yes, COVID-19 vaccines are safe during pregnancy. Scientists have compared the pregnancies of women who have received COVID-19 vaccines and women who have not. The reports show that these women have had similar pregnancy outcomes. Data do not show any safety concerns. Read COVID-19 Vaccines: Answers From Ob-Gyns to learn more.
Resources and Glossary Expand All
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Find COVID-19 and flu vaccines near you.
Antibodies: Proteins in the blood that the body makes in reaction to foreign substances, such as bacteria and viruses.
Bacteria: One-celled organisms that can cause infections in the human body.
Cells: The smallest units of a structure in the body. Cells are the building blocks for all parts of the body.
Chickenpox: A contagious disease caused by a virus that results in small, fluid-filled blisters on the skin. Also called varicella.
Hepatitis: Infection of the liver that can be caused by several types of viruses.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV): The name for a group of related viruses, some of which cause genital warts and some of which are linked to cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth, and throat.
Immune System: The body’s natural defense system against viruses and bacteria that cause disease.
Measles–Mumps–Rubella (MMR) Vaccine: A shot given to protect against measles, mumps, and rubella. The shot contains live viruses that have been changed to not cause disease. The shot is not recommended for pregnant women.
Meningitis: Inflammation of the covering of the brain or spinal cord.
Obstetrician–Gynecologist (Ob-Gyn): A doctor with special training and education in women’s health.
Pneumonia: An infection of the lungs.
Vaccines: Substances that help the body fight disease. Vaccines are made from very small amounts of weak or dead agents that cause disease (bacteria, toxins, and viruses).
Viruses: Agents that cause certain types of infections.
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Published: August 2022
Last reviewed: August 2022
Copyright 2023 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. All rights reserved. Read copyright and permissions information.
This information is designed as an educational aid for the public. It offers current information and opinions related to women's health. It is not intended as a statement of the standard of care. It does not explain all of the proper treatments or methods of care. It is not a substitute for the advice of a physician. Read ACOG’s complete disclaimer.
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