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In order to check for birth defects linked to the COVID-19 vaccine, scientists have now analysed ultrasounds

A recent study from Northwestern Medicine that was published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics revealed no link between the immunisation and birth abnormalities that can be seen on ultrasound. 

Birth abnormalities occur 3 to 5% of births in the United States, and the initial COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials excluded pregnant women, which led many patients and medical professionals to concern how the vaccination would effect pregnant women and their unborn children.

The “major foetal structural anomalies” the researchers were searching for on the ultrasounds of the trial participants included birth problems including an improperly closed spine or a heart defect. These kinds of birth abnormalities affect 3 to 5 percent of American babies, increasing infant morbidity, death, and costs by billions of dollars.

“One of the reasons women struggle with the vaccine in pregnancy is they’re worried about their babies and don’t want to take any risks,” said first author Dr. Rachel Ruderman, a fourth-year resident at Feinberg. “This study shows there is no increased risk of birth defects, and it supports other evidence that shows the vaccine is safe and beneficial for mom and baby.”

In the early stages of pregnancy, when the organs are developing, there may be anomalies in their structure, which could result in birth defects that could have a negative impact on the child’s life. Similar research from the American CDC on pregnant women was published in September 2021. The statistics from the CDC are expanded upon in this study.

The CDC compared its study results to historical data, whereas the new Northwestern study used modern controls—pregnant women who were either unwilling to receive vaccination or who did not receive it within the time period the researchers defined as having a biologic risk for birth defects, which was from 30 days before conception until 14 weeks gestational age.

“I think the big strength of this study is that we compared against other women who were vaccinated, but at a different point in their pregnancies,” Miller said. “People who choose vaccination are often different from people who choose not to be vaccinated. Our study design helps account for some of those differences.”

The study examined electronic medical records from a cohort of 3,156 pregnant women who underwent a full foetal anatomical survey (19-week ultrasound) at Northwestern Medicine Prentice Women’s Hospital between March and November 2021. These records included ultrasounds and COVID-19 vaccination records. 1,149 (43.8 percent) of the pregnant women were immunised within the vaccination window established by the researchers, which was from 30 days before conception to 14 weeks gestation. Of those pregnant women, 2,622 (83.1 percent) had at least one vaccination dose administered to them.

There is still hesitancy, they noted, despite new and emerging data that continue to support the safety of immunisation among pregnant people.

“Patients say, ‘I don’t think the data is good, and everyone is getting COVID anyway, so why would I expose my baby?’” said Ruderman, who received her booster shot during week 12 of pregnancy. “Then I tell people, ‘Actually, the data is really good,’ and I feel like they’re receptive. So, these findings will only add to that.”

In order to check for birth defects linked to the COVID-19 vaccine, scientists have now analysed ultrasounds

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