Yesterday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly recommended that pregnant and breastfeeding women get vaccinated against Covid-19. Citing new safety data, the agency said the benefits of inoculation outweigh any known or potential risks.
The news was quickly picked up by prominent misinformation sources. “JUST IN – U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is now recommending #COVID19 vaccination to pregnant women based on a ‘new analysis,’” tweeted the account of Disclose.tv, a German-based outlet that regularly shares misinformation, in what appears to be a use of scare quotes.
“I was pregnant with my 1st child when I got the Swine Flu vaccine (granted it was in the 70s). I was 5 months pregnant. I had a miscarriage and it took another 5 yrs to get pregnant again. How long have they studied this vaccine and pregnancy?” replied one user, whose account says they are based in Delaware. The reply received at least 500 shares and 2,400 likes.
Misleading commentaries and threads on vaccination and pregnancy also appeared on fringe message boards and social media sites soon after the announcement, a further sign that false narratives on vaccines and pregnancy will likely intensify.
Indeed, baseless claims and misleading or false narratives around Covid-19 vaccine side effects on pregnant women — such as that they cause infertility and miscarriages — are longstanding. Last year, the conspiracy theory that the vaccines were designed for sterilization or as an abortion drug to acheive population control went viral on mainstream social media sites, after first emerging on an anonymous messaging board.
The new data, based on real-world data of 2,500 women who received an mRNA vaccine, found no increased risk of miscarriage in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Earlier research also found no heightened risk of miscarriage for those vaccinated later in pregnancy.
At the same time, the relative absence of data from clinical trials involving pregnant women has made it difficult for public health officials to make definitive recommendations. While the CDC cited “growing” evidence of safety and effectiveness in its latest advisory, it also acknowledged the available data on vaccines and pregnancy is still “limited.” — Keenan Chen