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As World Health Organization changes guidance on pregnant women and COVID-19 vaccines, experts weigh in

Dr. Jennifer Ashton said the reason the guidance isn't crystal clear is because the vaccine hasn’t been formally studied yet in pregnant women.

DALLAS — The World Health Organization (WHO) changed its advice for pregnant women Monday when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Based on what we know about this kind of vaccine, we don’t have any specific reason to believe there will be specific risks that would outweigh the benefits of vaccination for pregnant women,” the WHO wrote on its website at the end of January.

Originally, the WHO was not on the same page as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine – American organizations that had recommended that pregnant women get the COVID-19 vaccine.  

“They have all come out with statements early on that have recommended that pregnant women get vaccinated,” Dr. Jay Staub of Health Central Women's Care in North Texas said.

Staub, an OB-GYN, said he agreed with the recommendation by these leading American organizations since the very beginning. 

“I've been encouraging the vaccine for my patients just as soon as it was available,” Staub said.

ACOG said COVID-19 vaccinations should not be withheld from pregnant women, and that women should discuss individual risks and benefits with their health care providers.

During an interview with WFAA, ABC News Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton provided context for guidance issued by various organizations. 

“In the pandemic setting, the reason why the World Health Organization and CDC and NIH – and ACOG by the way – are not crystal clear with their recommendations with respect to pregnant women getting these vaccines is because it hasn’t been formally studied yet in pregnant women,” Ashton said.

According to the CDC's website, “studies in people who are pregnant are planned" and “vaccine manufacturers are monitoring people in the clinical trials who became pregnant.”

The CDC said pregnant women who contract COVID-19 are significantly more likely to end up in the ICU and need a ventilator compared to non-pregnant women their age. 

Ashton and Staub acknowledge there’s more to learn about the effects of the COVID-19 vaccine in pregnant women. But both currently believe pregnant women should be able to get the shot.

Ashton said ACOG, the CDC and FDA say the vaccine should be an option for women who are pregnant, based on their individual risk factors.

“The type of vaccine it is -- the mRNA vaccine -- we know, historically, with other types of vaccines like this, that it is very safe and minimal risk,” Dr. Staub said. “So that's why we recommended it from the very beginning for our patients.”

We asked both doctors at what point during a woman’s pregnancy should she get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Right now, the new director of the CDC says, if you’re going to get it while you’re pregnant, maybe avoid it in the first trimester,” said Ashton. “As a practicing OBGYN, I would say the same thing.”

“In my opinion, because I believe in its safety, I'm advocating that my patients get it just as soon as they can,” Staub said.