Duluth doctor encourages COVID-19 vaccination in pregnancy
Infectious disease physician Sara Lund was among the first pregnant women in Minnesota to be vaccinated in 2020. Now, she and her family are hoping to increase the vaccination rate in pregnant women.
Sara Lund’s pregnancy announcement was fitting for an infectious disease specialist during a pandemic. When she sat down on Dec. 18, 2020, to receive her COVID-19 vaccine and was asked, in the routine questionnaire, if she was pregnant, Lund revealed that she was 14 weeks along.
Lund, an infectious disease physician at St. Luke’s in Duluth, was among the first women who knew they were pregnant to get their first dose of COVID vaccine in Minnesota. She’d been studying the preliminary research from medical associations about the safety of the vaccine for pregnant women and felt confident that it was safe.
“As an infectious disease doctor, obviously I couldn’t be more in support of the vaccine,” Lund told the News Tribune this month. “Of all the information we had at the time a year ago, and now, a year later, we know that a lot of people got vaccinated who were pregnant and they’re all doing well.”
Lund said it was especially important to her family that she be vaccinated as soon as possible because her husband, Timmon Lund, is immunosuppressed. She wanted to do everything she could to protect herself, her family and her community from the spread of the coronavirus.
Four months later, in April 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration confirmed that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were safe for both expectant mothers and their babies. A preliminary study of more than 35,000 pregnant women showed no safety concerns, the CDC reported April 23.
The Lunds welcomed their first child, a healthy son named Lars, in May 2021. Since then, Lars has remained healthy and is in the 95th percentile for size. Timmon Lund said their son just started crawling last week, and he likes boats — just like Timmon, who founded the nonprofit Catch Your Moment Foundation to connect families touched by cancer with outdoor fishing experiences.
As of Jan. 10, nearly 200,000 pregnant people in the United States have reported to the v-safe pregnancy registry, where the CDC monitors the effects of the COVID vaccines on pregnancy outcomes, complications and newborn health. Not only does the CDC continue to find scientific evidence that the COVID vaccine is safe for women who are pregnant or trying to conceive and their babies, but data has also overwhelmingly shown that pregnant women who do not get vaccinated against COVID are at much higher risks of severe COVID infection and adverse birth outcomes compared to vaccinated pregnant people.
A study in Scotland released Jan. 13 reported that developing COVID during pregnancy resulted in a higher chance of stillbirth or the loss of the fetus during pregnancy. Of the nearly 5,000 COVID infections during pregnancy recorded in the study, 77% occurred in unvaccinated women. More than 90% of infections associated with hospital admission and 98% of infections associated with critical care admission were in unvaccinated women. Only about one-third of pregnant Scottish women are vaccinated, and there has been one maternal death following COVID infection in the country.
Despite the reports from the CDC and other medical research institutions, only about 42% of pregnant Americans are vaccinated, according to Jan. 8 data reported to the CDC. Lund said it’s understandable that people are concerned about the unknowns of a relatively new vaccine. She said she’s advised countless women in the Northland who reached out to her about vaccination because they knew she’d been vaccinated. People have been worried about possible side effects and future fertility.
“It’s a lot of legitimate concerns for a newer vaccine to be given in pregnancy,” Lund said of their questions for her. “I go through the research with people to show what we’ve learned and to see all of the healthy babies that have been born since then.”
The CDC on Jan. 4 released a study of more than 46,000 pregnancies that showed no association between receiving a COVID vaccine and preterm birth or small-for-gestational-age birth weight. Health systems in Minneapolis and Marshfield, Wisconsin, participated in the study. Twenty percent of participants were vaccinated in the first trimester of pregnancy, and 98% of participants were vaccinated by the end of their term. It is recommended that people who are pregnant, were recently pregnant, are trying to conceive or plan to conceive in the future should all be vaccinated, the CDC said.
COVID vaccines have also been found to be safe for breastfeeding mothers. While the mRNA vaccine does not transfer through breast milk, reports have shown that antibodies do. In addition, there is evidence that antibodies are transferred through a mother’s umbilical cord to the fetus during pregnancy. The data is preliminary, and the CDC has not yet determined what level of protection these antibodies provide.
“It’s the only protection he can have right now until he can get vaccinated, which can’t come soon enough,” Lund said of baby Lars. “I’m glad in my decision and I continue to support women and pregnant women to get vaccinated. It’s very important.”
The Pfizer vaccine is currently authorized by the FDA for emergency use for children age 5-15, and has been approved by the FDA for people age 16 and older. Pfizer booster doses are also recommended to all vaccinated people 12 and older six months after initial vaccination, and Moderna boosters are recommended to vaccinated people age 18 and older. These recommendations include pregnant people.
Lund said she is happy to answer any questions Northlanders have about the COVID-19 vaccine and pregnancy, and can be reached at 218-249-7990.