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Charniece Smith: Why I decided to get the COVID-19 vaccine while trying to start a family

Charniece Smith Charniece Smith (Photo: Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

By Danielle Pierce

As the delta variant of COVID-19 surges around the nation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging all eligible people to vaccinate themselves against the virus. The newest group to receive that urging — anyone who is pregnant.

In making its announcement, the CDC pointed to safety data that there is no increased risk of miscarriage from a study among those immunized in their first 20 weeks.

The recommendation applies to people who are currently pregnant, who are considering becoming pregnant or who are breastfeeding.

Charniece SmithBut for soon-to-be mom Charniece Smith, the decision to get vaccinated didn’t start off as an easy one.

“I've never had any issues with vaccines, and I've never questioned the science behind them,” said Smith, interim senior outreach and marketing representative for VCU Health. “But the COVID-19 vaccine was different for me.”

Charniece and her husband were overjoyed to learn she was pregnant last year, during the pandemic. But then she miscarried. Recovering from this loss was extremely hard, she said.

“When we decided to try again, I knew I wanted to make sure I did everything in my power to protect my baby. And at the time, that meant no vaccine. I read things online and on social media with people saying that the vaccine could cause miscarriages or hurt the baby — which I know now is untrue — but it made sense to me at the time. So I believed it.”

Charniece was elated when they got pregnant again. Protecting this baby was still a priority for her and getting vaccinated would do just that, she said.

“Being vaccinated early in my pregnancy gave me and our baby the best protection. But, it was certainly a journey to get to this realization.”

Charniece wasn’t the only person who was expecting to feel this way. Many people who are pregnant or trying experience “vaccine hesitancy.” But according to health officials, the alternative — contracting COVID-19 during pregnancy — is much riskier than receiving the vaccine.

The University of California, San Francisco recently published results from its study on the effects of COVID-19 among pregnant women in California. Key findings include:

  • Risk of preterm birth was 60% higher for COVID-19 patients than for patients without COVID-19. For those with COVID-19 plus an underlying medical condition, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity, the risk of preterm birth was 160% higher.

  • People of color experienced a disproportionate infection risk. For instance, while 47% of pregnant people in the study identified as Latino, they represented 72% of people with a COVID-19 diagnosis.

So what was the turning point for Charniece in deciding to get the vaccine? It was taking a closer look at the science and research, she said.

“When the vaccine was first approved for emergency use, there was a lot of hesitancy, especially in the Black and brown communities,” Charniece said. “VCU Health wanted to create an opportunity to pull together team members, to make sure they had the right information to share with the community — so they started the Vaccine Champion initiative.”

Charniece was tasked with leading this initiative. In doing so, she read a lot of CDC research on COVID-19.

“I learned how unfounded the claims about the vaccine causing infertility and miscarriages were,” she said. “And so it was through having to research that I really became a champion myself. I decided to get vaccinated because I wanted to follow the facts. It made sense for me. It made sense for the baby. And it made sense for my husband — who also decided to get the vaccine so that he could protect both of us, too. … And here I am — ready to deliver my first baby at VCU Health later this year.”

VCU Health supports the recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that anyone who’s pregnant should get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Similar to how pediatricians look to the American Academy of Pediatrics for guidance, specialists in my field look to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine for guidance,” said Dr. Amanda Ritter, an obstetrician/ gynecologist at VCU Health. “Believing in evidence-based medicine, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine both strongly recommend that all pregnant individuals get the COVID-19 vaccine, which is an updated recommendation as of July 30. Current data shows that the vaccine is safe and effective during pregnancy.”

VCU Health offers the COVID-19 vaccine for patients who recently delivered. For more information, go to vcumom.com. To schedule an OB/GYN appointment, call (804) 828-4409.

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For a variety of news and information on COVID-19 and how VCU Health is keeping you safe, please visit our COVID-19 News Center

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