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New CDC guidance sparks push for expectant mothers to get vaccinated

Anna Karabachev Vest thought she would be nervous getting her first COVID-19 vaccine dose well into the third trimester of her pregnancy.

Instead, the needle brought a rush of relief.

“I walked out and I felt like I did the right thing,” Karabachev Vest, a lawyer with the Dobberstein Law Group, told the Review-Journal on Thursday. “My husband high-fived me, and I felt good. It felt like I did something to protect my baby.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday strengthened its recommendation that everyone 12 and older, including those who are or might be pregnant, should get the COVID-19 vaccine. The move came after a new analysis showed no increased risk for miscarriage.

Dr. Staci McHale, president of the Clark County Medical Society and Karabachev Vest’s OB-GYN, said Thursday that she has been urging her pregnant patients to get vaccinated for months. She hopes the updated CDC guidelines will bring more urgency and validity to the recommendation.

The delta variant surging across the U.S., including in Nevada, is making vaccination even more critical. McHale said she has seen anecdotal evidence of an increase in the number of local pregnant patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

Pregnant women who contract COVID-19 have a higher risk of being hospitalized, being put on a ventilator or dying from the virus, McHale said.

The vaccines usually protect both the expectant mother and babies from the virus, because the mother passes antibodies to the child through the placenta and breast milk. But no mRNA vaccines (those manufactured by Moderna and Pfizer) or “vaccine products” will pass into the baby, McHale said.

‘Scared of the unknown’

Karabachev Vest said that if she hadn’t been pregnant, she would have gotten the vaccine right away along with her other family members, many of whom are in the health care field. But she agonized over the decision because she was making it for two.

“I think I was just scared of the unknown,” Karabachev Vest said.

Talking with McHale helped change her mind, along with reading stances from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine. More than a week before the CDC’s latest guidance, both organizations issued a “strong recommendation” for all pregnant and breastfeeding women to get vaccinated, McHale said.

The CDC analysis on 2,500 women showed no increased risks of miscarriage for those who received at least one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna shot before 20 weeks of pregnancy, the Associated Press reported. The analysis found a miscarriage rate of around 13 percent, which is within the normal range.

In rare cases, pregnant patients who become critically ill with COVID-19 will have their organs begin to fail, prompting doctors to induce labor early or deliver babies by cesarean section as a last resort, Dr. Jeannie Kelly, an obstetrician at Washington University Medical Center in St. Louis, told the AP.

Some studies suggest that the virus can also increase risks of preterm birth and stillbirth, and in rare cases, it appears to have infected the fetus.

McHale urged anyone who is pregnant, regardless of vaccination status, to continue wearing masks in public to reduce the risk of infection and possible complications. She noted that it’s normal for people to get vaccines while pregnant, including the flu shot and whooping cough vaccine.

‘There’s a way out’

After losing close co-workers and her grandfather to COVID-19, McHale said she wants as many of her patients as possible to get vaccinated to prevent more avoidable tragedies.

“Your health care workers are really struggling with this,” she said. “We’re really frustrated because we know that there’s a way out of this, and the way out is to increase vaccination.”

Karabachev Vest, who is 38 weeks pregnant, is looking forward to welcoming her son, Oliver, into the world in late August. Before he’s born, she said, she’ll eagerly line up to get her second dose, and wants others to feel safe doing the same.

“You feel relieved; you feel like you did make a good decision for the future of what your child is going to be in this world,” she said. “You want to make sure that you are healthy when you’re delivering that baby, or at least have minimal side effects from this horrible thing that we’re facing right now.”

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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