So done with this pandemic, amiright? Luckily for us some very clever people all over the world have been working on a vaccine, and, Australia, it’s finally..nearly..here.
In Australia we are getting 2 different COVID-19 Vaccines. The first is made by the drug company Pfizer. This one is being rolled out to high risk groups such as essential services, health care workers and the elderly. The second is going to be manufactured right here in Australia by AstraZeneca and will eventually be available to everyone! Well, hopefully everyone. We’ll get to that.
Let’s talk a little about how this vaccine actually works.
The first thing to know is that there are many different types of vaccines - broadly these are live attenuated vaccines (this means that they are the actual germ but in a weakened form), inactivated vaccines (this is a dead version of the germ!), recombinant or subunit vaccines (this means only a part of the germ, like a protein off it’s shell), or toxoid vaccines (this is the toxin from a germ but no part of the germ itself). Germs are usually viruses or bacteria.
In Australia we are getting our hands on two different types of COVID-19 vaccine. One is made by the company Pfizer, and the other is by AstraZeneca. Both are types of recombinant or subunit vaccines, meaning they do not use the whole Corona virus in any form. They are actually extremely clever!
- Pfizer’s vaccine uses a special protein called mRNA - M for messenger - that takes a message to your muscle cells to create a protein that looks like the one off the Corona’s casing. Now that your body has “seen” this protein, it can start making antibodies against it. This means that if your body ever comes into contact with the actual Corona virus, it will already have antibodies ready to fight it off. Bang! Immunity!
- AstraZeneca’s uses a what is called a viral “vector” - an entirely different weakened and non replicating virus that causes a cold in a chimpanzee but does absolutely nothing to us humans. They have changed the virus so it carries a similar gene to the one that makes Corona’s spike. Once your body sees that protein it makes it into mRNA, and the rest is the same as above. It can now gear up its defences to deal with it on the real Corona virus should it ever encounter it again. So smart!
But what about if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Wellllll... this is where it gets a bit grey.
The issue is a lack of evidence. In general, clinical trials tend to exclude pregnancy and breast feeding because of concerns with exposing those little jelly-beans to potential harm. As well as this, the COVID-19 vaccines have been developed at amazing speed, and they are so brand new, that we haven’t yet had time to collect information from the pregnant women around the world that have already had it.
Science does tell us though, that they probably will be just fine for pregnant woman and breastfeeding mums. Remember, you aren’t being injected with Corona virus. The protein mRNA just degrades in the body, and experts say it probably won’t last long enough to even get to the placenta or your milk, let alone cross over to baby.
At the moment, the main vaccines that are absolutely not recommended in pregnancy are live attenuated vaccines. The vast majority of the rest need to be discussed on a case by case basis with your health care provider to decide if the benefit to you and bub outweigh the risks. COVID-19 vaccines probably fall into this category. If you are a frontline worker, or are at risk for other reasons like you have other medical conditions, you will probably be better off having the vaccine than not.
As an aside, there are a couple of vaccines that you SHOULD get in pregnancy. These are the flu jab and whopping cough vaccine. Don’t forget to discuss these with your health care team. But we digress..
The good news is that by the time we get the vaccines here in Australia, we will have so much more information from the USA and UK, where 100’s of pregnant and breastfeeding women have already chosen to have the vaccine. Our health department here will await the full TGA report before giving out any official advice on what us pregnant and breastfeeding Mama’s should do. Watch this space!
Though we hope you find it informative, this blog post is the view of the authors and is for entertainment purposes only. It does not constitute medical or legal advice. Please seek professional guidance if you or your baby are experiencing any issues. Happy reading!
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