More than halfway into her pregnancy, Maggie Price wasn't swept up in a destructive disinformation campaign about the COVID-19 vaccine. She hadn't been targeted by false conspiracy theories suggesting that a "spike protein" from the virus could bind to the ovary, causing infertility or birth defects.
Nor had she heard a prominent anti-vaxxer link the shots to "the globalists and the de-population eugenicists, the stated Satanists who are out to destroy the world." (This is also extremely not true.)
Price, of Delano, was just living her life as a busy mom and business owner during a pandemic, struggling to stay on top of the latest research and trying to protect the growing baby inside of her. She and her family — including a toddler and twin second-graders — diligently washed hands, masked up, and did all the things we've been told to help shield us from the coronavirus.
But Price was still reluctant to get the vaccine.
"Anything you're putting into your body, you're thinking more about than you would have if you weren't pregnant," she said. "My initial hesitancy was, if I didn't have to do it, and we could stay safe — that's the ideal scenario. As a pregnant woman, you try to make the best choice for yourself and your unborn child."
Then as the delta variant started to spread like kudzu this summer, her thoughts wandered to the start of the school year. She knew her kids would probably be in classrooms where their classmates weren't masked. Her family was already sickened with COVID-19 last year — the result of an exposure at school — and she didn't want to risk another bout with the disease.
Price also started reading reports of pregnant patients infected with the virus who were forced to deliver early, were placed on ventilators, or who had even lost their lives. COVID-19 vaccination rates among expecting moms are staggeringly low: Only about a third of pregnant people have gotten the shots.
So Price did something that's becoming sadly less common these days: She talked to her doctor.
Weeks before her delivery date, she brought her questions and concerns to her OB-GYN, Dr. Jewelia Wagner, at a regular prenatal checkup. It's the same doctor who delivered Price's twins eight years ago.
"I fully, 100% have trusted her," Price said, acknowledging that not everyone is fortunate to have access to quality medical care and a longstanding relationship with a physician. "That's all I needed — that nod from her to say, 'What you're seeing is real, I've experienced it firsthand, and the research shows [the vaccine] is safe and effective for pregnant women.' "
That conversation, in which Price and her OB weighed the pros and cons of getting vaccinated, took less than 10 minutes. By the end, Price was convinced that the risk of developing COVID-19 while pregnant far outweighed any drawbacks of getting the shots. That same day, she made an appointment to get inoculated.
Expecting moms shouldn't be looked down upon for being uncertain about the vaccine. Earlier in the pandemic, many, like Price, simply yearned for more data studying the possible effects on those who are pregnant. As is the norm for clinical trials, the initial vaccine studies intentionally excluded them, and as a result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said pregnant people "may choose to be vaccinated" but didn't initially recommend it.
But emerging research showed the vaccine carried no increased risk of miscarriage or infertility. In August, the CDC gave its full support for pregnant people to get the vaccine. And last month, it issued its strongest guidance yet urging the vaccine immediately for pregnant people, given they are at higher risk of getting seriously ill from the disease. About 97% of infected pregnant people who have been hospitalized — either for illness or for labor and delivery — were not vaccinated, according to the agency.
Wagner, Price's doctor, said she spends a fair amount of time counseling her patients at Clinic Sofia's locations in Edina and Maple Grove about the vaccine. She walks them through the studies that have proved its safety and pairs the research with what she has seen from her own practice. If her patients are still unsure, she gives them time to think it over and says the choice must ultimately come from them.
"In the long run, I just hope that we can get back to that trust issue. If you don't believe one doctor, go to another, and then go to another," she said. "That's what's great about the American health care system — you can get multiple opinions."
But purveyors of vaccine misinformation, especially on the internet, are preying on folks who are trying to conceive and want nothing more than to have children, or who already are pregnant and want nothing more than to have babies who are born safe and healthy.
"What a great target," Wagner said. "What a great fear."
Price was fully vaccinated by the time she gave birth to a healthy girl at the end of September. "No side effects whatsoever," she said of the vaccine.
Among her clients — Price is an interior designer — she knows many women aligned with the "wellness" community who remain skeptical of vaccinations. And in her conservative-leaning county, where some are reserved about admitting to getting the jab, she's been unabashed to raise her hand and say she received the vaccine while pregnant.
And the most reassuring part of it all? In what can be considered a mother's act of protection, she passed on COVID-fighting antibodies to her newborn daughter.
"She is perfect," Price said.
(Read an interview with Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a Mayo Clinic physician who specializes in pediatric infectious diseases, including COVID-19.)