World Health Organisation Chief Scientist Speaks On Vaccines, Pregnancy, Menstruation, Lactation And Fertility
9 June 2021
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Should women who are breastfeeding infants get vaccinated? How about women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant? Or women who are menstruating? Hello and welcome to Science in 5, I’m Vismita Gupta-Smith and we are going to get these answers for you from WHO’s Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan today. Welcome, Soumya.

Dr Soumya Swaminathan

Hello, Vismita.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Soumya, my first question to you is women who are breast feeding infants, what is the advice for them? Should they get vaccinated?

Dr Soumya Swaminathan

Yes, the answer is yes. So, women who have given birth and who are breastfeeding their babies can take the vaccine, should take the vaccine when it becomes available to them. There is no risk at all because all the vaccines that are being used presently, none of them have the live virus in it. And so there’s no risk of transmission through the breast milk. In fact, the antibodies that the mother has can go through the breast milk to the baby and may only serve maybe to protect the baby a little bit. But there’s absolutely no harm. It’s very safe. And so women who are breastfeeding can definitely take the vaccines that are currently available.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Soumya, what about women who are pregnant or are planning to get pregnant?

Dr Soumya Swaminathan

Yeah, that’s really important because pregnancy, of course, is a very special situation because we are concerned about the health of the mother, but also about the health of the foetus, the unborn child. And so any drug or vaccine that is administered during pregnancy, we always take special care to make sure that, you know, there is no potential safety concern or any adverse event. In the case of COVID, we know that pregnant women are at higher risk of getting severe COVID and also at higher risk of delivering a baby prematurely. So, in situations where there is a lot of COVID transmission in the country and a woman is exposed to it, or if she’s in a profession like a health care worker or a frontline worker where she’s at especially high risk of acquiring the infection, the benefits of getting the vaccine definitely outweigh the risks, particularly since the platforms that we used currently for vaccines are the mRNA platform, inactivated viruses or the viral vectored platforms or subunit proteins. None of them have a live virus that can multiply within the body and that could potentially create a problem. So, I think it’s important that pregnant women in every country be explained the benefits versus the risks and be offered the vaccine if they would like to take it. And it’s probably the right thing to do in many situations, as I said, where the pregnant woman is at higher risk of getting the infection and where the vaccines would bring more benefits.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Soumya, should women get vaccinated when they’re menstruating?

Dr Soumya Swaminathan

So, there is nothing scientifically to really come in the way of a menstruating woman taking the vaccine, apart from the fact that, you know, she may feel a bit tired, but if that’s the date on which you have a vaccine appointment and you happen to have your periods, there’s absolutely no problem in going ahead and getting the vaccine.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Soumya, we hear a lot of misinformation about vaccines and fertility and infertility. Could you please explain the science behind this?

Dr Soumya Swaminathan

Yes, it’s a common myth. And I should start by saying that there is absolutely no scientific evidence or truth behind this concern that vaccines somehow interfere with fertility, either in men or in women, because what vaccines do is they stimulate an immune response against that particular protein or antigen of that virus or bacteria. So in this case, the COVID vaccine stimulates both antibody response and a cell mediated immune response against the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. So, there is no way in which they could interfere with the functioning of the reproductive organs in either men or women. So, I think people can rest assured that these vaccines in no way interfere with fertility.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Thank you, Soumya. That was Dr. Soumya Swaminathan in Science in 5 today.

Until next time then.

Stay safe, stay healthy and stick with science.