The Lead

‘The stakes are high’: Pa. health officials urge COVID-19 vaccines among new, expecting parents

By: - January 11, 2022 12:52 pm

Acting state Health Secretary Keara Klinepeter speaks during a Department of Health press conference in Harrisburg on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022. (Screenshot)

Dr. Chavone Momon-Nelson isn’t sure a parent ever stops worrying about their child.

“This is normal, but the stakes are high during this pandemic,” Momon-Nelson, a mother of two and chair of the UPMC Carlisle Department of OB-GYN said Tuesday during a Department of Health press conference in Harrisburg to promote COVID-19 vaccines among expecting and new parents, as well as nursing parents.

And with the low COVID-19 vaccination rates among pregnant populations, between 30 and 35 percent in the United States, medical professionals worry “many parents are opting for what feels safe rather than what is safe,” Momon-Nelson said.

Pregnant people who contract the coronavirus are at higher risk for having severe COVID-19, as well as for having a preterm birth.

“Pregnancy is a vulnerable time,” acting Pennsylvania Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson said. “The evidence is clear that vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, are safe and effective and do not cause fertility issues in women or men.”

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective for all people trying to become pregnant, expecting, or breastfeeding. The report also found that people with symptomatic COVID-19 during pregnancy have an increased risk for intensive care unit admission, invasive ventilation, and a 70 percent increased risk for death — compared with non-pregnant people with symptomatic infections.

Dr. Chavone Momon-Nelson, who chairs the UPMC Carlisle OB-GYN Department, speaks during a Department of Health press conference on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine recommend that all pregnant individuals be vaccinated against COVID-19, citing research that shows fully vaccinated parents passed antibodies to their babies at the time of delivery.

Acting state Health Secretary Keara Klinepeter publicly announced that she’s pregnant with her first child during Tuesday’s conference, saying that she is fully vaccinated and received her booster shot after learning that she was pregnant.

“And thanks to scientists, doctors, specialists, and my great teammates at the Department of Health, I feel confident that I made the right decision for myself and my child,” she added.

The state Health Department recommends that pregnant Pennsylvanians get fully vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible and use the CDC’s v-safe pregnancy registry, an app that offers personalized health check-ins. 

The app also collects information from people who received their vaccines before or during pregnancy, which could help healthcare providers and other pregnant people make informed decisions about getting vaccinated.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been following the science, guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and letting that information guide our decision making,” Johnson said. “Even with this concrete data on the COVID-19 vaccine and pregnancy, we know that this virus is continually evolving. That is why the monitoring of COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy is ongoing.”

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