I heaved my 35-weeks-pregnant body out of my car and into the sleet. In my fantasies about the day I would finally get the COVID-19 vaccine, I’d pictured sunny skies to match a sunny mood. Instead, granules of ice pelted my maternity coat and the two face masks layered over my nose and mouth. And instead of the joy I had imagined, I felt conflicted—but my mixed feelings had nothing to do with getting vaccinated during my pregnancy.
A couple weeks prior, when I found out I was eligible for the vaccine, I emailed my OB-GYN practice for advice. Is it safe to get the COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant? Should I get it now, or wait until after I give birth? Their reply was unequivocal: “All of our providers recommend the COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccination can be received prior to pregnancy, during pregnancy, and while breastfeeding.” After 10 months of pandemic purgatory, I desperately wanted to be protected against this horrible virus, and was relieved when I learned my doctors were encouraging pregnant patients to get it.
But here’s where those mixed feelings come in: I wasn’t sure if I deserved to get the vaccine when it’s still in such short supply. I’m 34. I can work from home. I only leave the house for outdoor activities with my family and to pick up my toddler from day care. I have no high-risk conditions beyond pregnancy (and I may not even be pregnant anymore by the time I return for my second shot).
I was surprised to even have the opportunity to be vaccinated while pregnant. But, on January 19, my state expanded its first vaccination phase to include anyone with a health condition that puts them at increased risk for dangerous COVID symptoms, and pregnancy was on the list. The next day, I logged onto my local health bureau’s website at the right moment to secure two appointments—one for my 70-year-old, diabetic mother, and one for me.
I felt a twinge of guilt when I booked my appointment. Some friends had questioned whether it was ethical for me to get vaccinated before teachers, grocery store workers and others in riskier situations. But—whether it’s fair or not—those people aren’t eligible in this phase in my state.
I work in higher education, and I asked a professor friend who teaches public health for advice. She said that in her opinion, I shouldn’t wait to get the vaccine. Outcomes for pregnant women with COVID can be poor, she said, and our collective goal should be getting shots in as many arms as possible as quickly as possible. Deferring won’t fix the suboptimal prioritization system, she added—it would just leave me vulnerable for longer.
I thought of her advice as I entered the event space my city has transformed into a mass-vaccination site. At check-in, the volunteer asked for my doctor’s note—only pregnant people and those on immunosuppressant medication were told to provide these. I’m guessing that’s because both groups were excluded from the clinical trials, but it felt paternalistic, like the pregnant couldn’t be trusted to talk to their doctors about this without requiring a written record of the conversation. I was happy to tolerate the hand-holding in exchange for a vaccine.
Another volunteer directed me to one of the numbered vaccination stations that had been spaced throughout the cavernous venue. Soon, a paramedic was jabbing me in my left deltoid. “Oh, wow, you’re a bleeder!” he said, grabbing some extra gauze.
I’d never bled during a vaccine before, but that was the only unique effect of the first dose. My arm felt sore later on, overnight, and into the following day, like it has after other shots. My pregnancy snoring seemed to be worse than usual that night, but maybe it would have been anyway.
I’ve heard fever and fatigue are more likely to occur after the second dose. Mine is scheduled for five days before my due date. Going into labor while feverish and fatigued sounds unpleasant, but not as unpleasant as getting COVID.
The pandemic has felt like an endless parade of not-great options and opportunities for second-guessing. I am grateful that the experts in my life empowered me to have confidence in my choice to get the vaccine while pregnant.
[Editor’s note: Meghan was scheduled for her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine a few days before her due date, but a snowstorm delayed her appointment until five days after her baby girl was born. She reports that the only side effect she experienced was a sore arm.]