'Will the baby be OK?' Pregnant women reflect on their COVID vaccine choices following CDC's 'urgent' warning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an "urgent" health advisory last week directed at pregnant women with a clear message: Get vaccinated against COVID-19 or you could be putting your health and that of your baby at risk.

"CDC strongly recommends COVID-19 vaccination either before or during pregnancy because the benefits of vaccination outweigh known or potential risks," the Sept. 29 advisory reads. The message also contains concerning data about pregnant women and COVID-19.

As of Sept. 27, the CDC says, more than 125,000 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported in pregnant women, including more than 22,000 hospitalized cases and 161 deaths. In August alone, 22 pregnant women died of the virus, CDC data show.

Data also indicate that about 97 percent of pregnant women who are hospitalized with COVID-19 were unvaccinated. "In addition to the risks of severe illness and death for pregnant and recently pregnant people, there is an increased risk for adverse pregnancy and neonatal outcomes, including preterm birth and admission of their neonate(s) to an intensive care unit," the CDC says. "Other adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as stillbirth, have been reported."

There's also this unsettling fact: As of Sept. 18, just 31 percent of pregnant women were fully vaccinated before or during their pregnancy.

Messaging from the public health community seemingly hasn't helped. When the COVID-19 vaccine was first granted an emergency use authorization, both the CDC and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) didn't recommend for or against the vaccines for pregnant women. Instead, the organizations urged pregnant women to speak to their doctors to weigh their own personal risks and benefits of getting vaccinated. The World Health Organization even outwardly recommended that pregnant women do not get the COVID-19 vaccine, only to later change its messaging.

But ACOG, the CDC, and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) now recommend that pregnant women get the vaccine. "The organizations' recommendations in support of vaccination during pregnancy reflect evidence demonstrating the safe use of the COVID-19 vaccines during pregnancy from tens of thousands of reporting individuals over the last several months, as well as the current low vaccination rates and concerning increase in cases," ACOG and SMFM said in a joint statement issued in July. (The WHO, it's worth noting, now says that pregnant women should get vaccinated "when the benefits of vaccination to the pregnant woman outweigh the potential risk.")

Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells Yahoo Life that major health organizations were "a little more nebulous" about recommending the COVID-19 vaccine early on "because we didn't have as much data as we would have liked." But now that more data is available and major health organizations are recommending the vaccine, he says pregnant women don't seem to understand the importance of the vaccine, for both themselves and their babies.

"Most women will do whatever it takes to protect their fetus and many are afraid of taking any vaccine, drug or medicine during pregnancy," Russo says. "It's all about concerns for their baby, but what we know now completely flips that thinking so that getting vaccinated is in the best interest for them and their baby."

There is also "so much misinformation" floating around online about how the vaccine will impact pregnant women, infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Life. That, coupled with pregnant women being excluded from early clinical trials of the COVID-19 vaccine "likely played some part" in pregnant women now being wary of the vaccine, he says.

Women who are pregnant, as well as new moms, tell Yahoo Life that they were hesitant at first about the vaccine. However, some went ahead and got vaccinated while others plan to wait.

Chanel Pazda, a lifestyle blogger in New York City, tells Yahoo Life that "the decision of getting vaccinated did not come lightly" for her, especially since she and her husband "went through some intense IVF treatment" to get pregnant. Trying to decide whether to get vaccinated "added an extra layer of stress and concern," she says.

"I am pro-vaccine but it was just so hard to get pregnant that I did not want to disrupt the pregnancy in any way with getting the vaccine," she says. "The main concern was, 'Will the baby be OK? Will the baby's development ... be impacted?'"

After speaking with medical professionals and a friend who got vaccinated while pregnant, Chanel says she decided that "it was safer to get the vaccine while pregnant than to get COVID while pregnant." She waited until she was 16 weeks along before getting her first dose. She's now 29 weeks into her pregnancy.

Suzi Hansen gave birth to her baby on Sept. 24, and even tweeted about how glad she was to be vaccinated against COVID-19 afterward.

Hansen, who got her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Aug. 2, tells Yahoo Life that "the choice to be vaccinated against COVID-19 during my pregnancy wasn't made lightly as I had to consider both my health and the health of my unborn baby." Hansen says she "wanted to make the best decision to protect both of us during the pandemic."

Hansen says she consulted with experts and read academic research to come to her decision to get vaccinated. "At the time when I was making my decision about vaccination, the data made it very apparent that pregnancy increased the risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19," she says. "My brother has a friend who contracted COVID-19 while pregnant and she was so sick that she went into pre-term labor and her baby almost died."

Hansen says that the "relative newness" of the vaccines "did make me question unknowns a bit, but there had been no data to suggest harm to mothers or babies caused by vaccination; we did have information, however, on poor outcomes for babies and their unvaccinated mothers. The choice to be fully vaccinated during pregnancy was the best choice for me and my baby based on the available evidence and after a careful weighing of the pros and cons."

But not everyone feels comfortable getting vaccinated during pregnancy. One mother, who asked Yahoo Life to withhold her name for privacy reasons, is 32 weeks' pregnant with her first child and won't get the vaccine during her pregnancy. "I do not feel comfortable with taking such a new vaccine since there has been no longterm follow-up studies on the babies," she says. "Even is there is no increased risk of miscarriage, what about the health of the children when they are one year or five years old? No one knows. I would not feel safe with letting my unborn baby be a guinea pig."

The woman says she's had COVID-19 and has "natural antibodies," noting that when she had the virus, which was right before she became pregnant, she had "very mild symptoms and not even a fever." She is particularly concerned about the possibility of a fever after getting the vaccine "since fever is very dangerous for the fetus."

Women's health expert Dr. Jennifer Wider tells Yahoo Life that pregnant women should definitely get the vaccine. "Pregnant women are at a significantly higher risk during COVID for both themselves and developing fetus," she says. "The risk of COVID far outweighs the risk of a fever post-vaccine, which can be successfully treated under the guidance of a health care professional."

The CDC recommends that people who have had COVID-19 still get vaccinated against the virus. "Research has not yet shown how long you are protected from getting COVID-19 again after you recover from COVID-19," the organization says online. The CDC also cites a study that found that unvaccinated people who have had COVID-19 are more than twice as likely than fully vaccinated people to get COVID-19 again.

Nahyun Barbuto, founder of lifestyle website Lifting Motherhood, is expecting her second child in March. "I chose not to get the COVID-19 vaccine because I felt like there was an inadequate amount of research done on pregnant women of all gestation and also for a sufficient enough time span," she tells Yahoo Life. "I am not completely against getting the vaccine but, after more years of research, I would be more comfortable getting it."

Barbuto says she's been repeatedly asked by health care professionals if she's been vaccinated and then "immediately" asked why not. "I believe pregnant women should not be pressured into getting a vaccine that has not been out for very long," she says.

Barbuto says she does not think that getting vaccinated after she gives birth "will be my top priority," noting that she, her husband, and her now-18-month-old daughter tested positive for COVID-19 in November 2020 and "did fine."

"I do not plan to get the vaccine until another year or plus years," she says.

Mom of three Sophie Strout decided to get the COVID-19 vaccine when her youngest was one. "When the COVID-19 vaccine became available, I was still hesitant," she tells Yahoo Life. "I wanted to see it tested more to feel confident that adverse reactions were minimal or rare. I had been pretty fearful of vaccines in general for a number of years and was only open to this one because we were living in a pandemic and I didn’t see any other way out."

Strout says she "became more educated on vaccines and my eyes were opened to the amount of misinformation out there about them. I felt comfortable with the studies being done and the results we were seeing." So, she got vaccinated and posted about it on Instagram in August.

"New moms have to know that they are preyed upon," she says. "People know that we are more fearful than usual during this time and they will take that and use it to get us to believe things we normally wouldn’t. 'Doing your research' shouldn’t mean joining Facebook groups or watching YouTube videos by unqualified people, it should mean actually listening to experts. There are so many experts on vaccines and viruses that are on social media that it makes it easy to learn facts. Find a doctor that really listens to you and doesn't make you feel bad about asking questions, and then listen to what they have to say."

Even though she's glad to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, new mom Hansen says that pregnant women deserve compassion, but she urges other expectant moms to listen to the advice of medical professionals and get the vaccine.

"This is a scary time to be pregnant," she says. "We just want to make the best choices for our babies and that can be an overwhelming task. I don’t have any regrets about being vaccinated while pregnant. I have a healthy baby boy and I am also so excited that he has some antibodies to help protect him that he wouldn’t have had otherwise. There are so many uncertainties and things outside of our control. Making a choice about vaccination is one way to regain some control when it comes to your health and that of your unborn baby; That’s empowering."

Want lifestyle and wellness news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.