Discernment in an age of disinformation requires methodical consideration of the full pictures when deciding what approach you take to health during your pregnancy. So many promises of health and well-being on the internet encourage an expecting mom to make a checklist and check off their boxes for a guaranteed healthy baby. That list should include many functional medicine approaches like a low inflammatory diet, adequate omega 3 fish oils, avoidance of toxins, and more. At times, functional medicine and conventional medicine agree on what is truly best, but at other times the methodical consideration of mainstream medicine’s recommendations reveals some blind spots. One area in particular is host to a firestorm of a debate: should a pregnant woman get a COVID vaccine?
We live in a new world where this little ‘SARS-CoV2’ virus has created quite a stir, even a panic. While the panic has lessened a bit with time, many are still caught up in the hysteria and many others are attempting to keep the hysteria going. The general desire to alleviate suffering of individuals afflicted with COVID-19 is shared across the spectrum of health care and across society, but the means and urgency of countermeasures are where the greatest divergence in opinion rest. The question crystallizes into this: “Is the threat serious enough to warrant the risks of untested therapies in the given group?”.
In regard to pregnant women, the consensus of mainstream medical studies is that they are at higher risk for more severe COVID-19 infection. Although we should always check that the data has been reported without bias or doctoring, this does seem to be true. For now, we will assume the studies reflected a real threat for pregnant women during the studies and agree that we as a society want to protect these vulnerable individuals. Still, we must consider if that increased threat continues as the virus mutates and therapies are available to treat it. That is our first unanswered question in comparing the pros and cons of vaccinating pregnant women: just how big is the threat?
After considering the threat level, we turn to the study recently published in the journal Vaccine which studied the efficacy of the mRNA therapy for COVID-19 (termed a vaccine by conventional medicine authorities). In 240 pregnant women receiving either Pfizer or Moderna’s mRNA therapy, they measured the antibody responses in the mothers and the results babies. They compared antibody levels in those who received the 2 dose initial series versus those who received a booster dose of the therapy. They were quite pleased with the results; while all 240 who received the therapy’s initial series showed antibody responses, those receiving boosters showed even high antibodies both in the moms and in the cord blood of the infants. In other words, not only did the mothers respond to the mRNA therapy, but the infants demonstrated antibody levels which the researchers assumed would translate into benefits for both groups.
We who are attempting to discern what is best for our pregnant patients in the clinic must raise our first question towards this assumption. We must simply ask whether or not these antibody levels actually conveyed clinical benefit. Having antibodies may or may not lower the incidence or severity of a given disease (although it is the common pattern), and even the study authors admitted that this question was not answered for the COVID virus. From our viewpoint, without the inclusion of a placebo controlled and double blinded arm of the study, in which pregnant moms received a placebo dose, we do not know whether the therapy helped or harmed or did nothing. Any one of these three options is possible.
Many new therapies for many different conditions are always under development in research laboratories. Very few make it to the public market as they either ultimately offer no significant benefits or have the side effects that outweigh the potential benefit. It seems in this study the assumption was made that the mRNA therapies were safe enough to use on pregnant women with their unborn children without referring back to any studies showing their safety. This seems reckless at best given the publicly known concerns for increased miscarriages and effects on women’s menstrual cycles since the therapy was introduced. No effort seems to have been made by the study authors to go beyond this insufficiently justified assumption of safety.
Beyond these most serious concerns for short term safety of the study participants, two other factors require our attention. The first is that no attempt was made to measure if these women or their babies were protected by these increased antibody levels. This seems quite neglectful. I hesitate to propose an explanation for this omission as it might be construed as an accusation, but the gravity of this issue requires my taking such a risk. While conceding that pregnant women and newborns do have a higher risk of severe COVID than the general population, the study authors would have to assess the actual numerical risk of such harm is still quite low given the risk of severe COVID is very low for the general population. With much less than 1% at risk of severe disease or death from COVID, the bar for the pregnant women to have a higher relative risk and a low actual risk (compared to other diseases) is easy to overcome. If one plans to initiate such a therapy for 100% of pregnant women, a true apples-to-apples comparison must be made in numbers when looking at the risks of the therapies versus the risk of not doing the therapies. The study does not acknowledge that this comparison must be made.
The second concern extends beyond the omission of measuring short term risks (which is neglectful enough) to include the potential long term risk for the infants’ health. When initiating a therapy on children, some effort must be made to track whether an adverse effect arises 1 year, 5 years, or even 20 years down the road. If we as a medical profession and as a society are planning to advocate for a new therapy for 100% of newborns, the potential for huge societal impacts deserves our careful monitoring so that some years down the road we are not facing an irreversible situation due to laziness or blind spots today. In other words, we don’t know the real long-term risks of this vaccine for children, and without knowing that we must take much greater care than this study takes.
I could add more nuances to this assessment, but contrary to my normal pattern of extending details, I believe the questions I have raised are sufficient to warrant a pause for methodical consideration. Is this study adequate to motivate us to urge such experimental therapies on the vulnerable women and children of our society? I am ashamed that our society and our medical profession has chosen to put pregnant women in this position without proper safety measures. Beyond that willful neglect, we as a society have pushed them into this dilemma- to take or not take the therapy- with propaganda and fear mongering. This contradicts the Hippocratic oath as well as our clinic’s mission of helping others live healthier, more abundant lives. Consider these problems carefully before proceeding with this therapy.
Flor M. Munoz, Christine M. Posavad, Barbra A. Richardson, Martina L. Badell, Katherine E. Bunge, Mark J. Mulligan, Lalitha Parameswaran, Clifton W. Kelly, Courtney Olson-Chen, Richard M. Novak, Rebecca C. Brady, Marcela F. Pasetti, Emily A. Defranco, Jeffrey S. Gerber, Mallory C. Shriver, Mehul S. Suthar, Rhea N. Coler, Bryan J. Berube, So Hee Kim, Jeanna M. Piper, Ashley M. Miller, Cristina V. Cardemil, Kathleen M. Neuzil, Richard H. Beigi. COVID-19 booster vaccination during pregnancy enhances maternal binding and neutralizing antibody responses and transplacental antibody transfer to the newborn. Vaccine, 2023; 41 (36): 5296 DOI: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2023.06.032
Thanks to Science Daily:
NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “COVID-19 vaccination and boosting during pregnancy benefits pregnant people and newborns.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 August 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/08/230811143836.htm>.
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.