A woman and child in Seoul. (AFP / Ed Jones)

Safe for breastfeeding mothers to get vaccinated, health authorities say

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Multiple online posts have shared a report they claim is “evidence” that Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 jabs are dangerous for breastfeeding mothers. The posts are misleading: they cite a spurious report about a breastfeeding mother who was allegedly vaccinated in March 2020, two months before Pfizer-BioNTech started clinical trials for its Covid-19 jabs. As of early May 2021, health authorities said it was safe for breastfeeding mothers to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

The claim was shared in this post on the Korean social media site Naver Blog on April 26, 2021.

The post translates as: “A baby died after getting breastfed by a mom who received Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine.

“I think we have found evidence that Pfizer can cause the dysfunction of the brain, heart and kidney thanks to this case.

“This is not the first time Covid-19 vaccine killed an infant, and we will see more of the same cases in the future.”

Screenshot of misleading Naver Blog post, taken on May 3, 2021.

An identical claim has been shared on Facebook here, here and here; on Twitter here and here; and on Instagram here.

The posts are misleading.

Unconfirmed report

The post cites this case report from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a US vaccine safety database.

The VAERS report states: “Patient received second dose of Pfizer vaccine on March 17, 2020 while at work. March 18, 2020 her 5 month old breastfed infant developed a rash and within 24 hours was inconsolable, refusing to eat, and developed a fever. 

“Patient brought baby to local ER where assessments were performed, blood analysis revealed elevated liver enzymes. Infant was hospitalized but continued to decline and passed away. Diagnosis of TTP. No known allergies. No new exposures aside from the mother's vaccination the previous day.”

VAERS accepts reports of adverse events and reactions that occur following vaccination. However, these reports are largely voluntary and may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable.

The report cited in the misleading posts contains erroneous dates.

It alleges the breastfeeding mother received her second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine “on March 17, 2020”. Her baby purportedly started showing adverse reactions on “March 18, 2020”.

But Pfizer-BioNTech did not start human trials for its Covid-19 vaccine until May 4, 2020, according to this company document.

Below is a screenshot of the VAERS report, with the erroneous dates and disclaimer highlighted:

The New York Times reported on the start of the Pfizer-BioNTech trials here on May 5, 2020.

US regulators issued an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on December 11, 2020.

Limited data

The posts also omit an important disclaimer found in the VAERS report here which states: “Submitting a report to VAERS does not mean that healthcare personnel or the vaccine caused or contributed to the adverse event (possible side effect).”

A more detailed disclaimer is found on this page which summarises how people should interpret VAERS data.

The page reads in part: “While very important in monitoring vaccine safety, VAERS reports alone cannot be used to determine if a vaccine caused or contributed to an adverse event or illness. The reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable.

“In large part, reports to VAERS are voluntary, which means they are subject to biases. This creates specific limitations on how the data can be used scientifically. Data from VAERS reports should always be interpreted with these limitations in mind.”

Breastfeeding advice

A spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an agency that co-manages the VAERS database, confirmed no unusual patterns for deaths had been detected following Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination.

“Statements that imply that deaths following vaccination equate to deaths caused by vaccination are scientifically inaccurate, misleading, and irresponsible,” she said on May 10, 2021.

As of May 12, 2021, the CDC says it is safe for breastfeeding mothers to receive a Covid-19 vaccination.

In an advisory updated as of April 28, 2021, the agency states: “Based on how these vaccines work in the body, COVID-19 vaccines are thought not to be a risk to lactating people or their breastfeeding babies.

“Therefore, lactating people can receive a COVID-19 vaccine.”

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency also says it is safe for breastfeeding mothers to get vaccinated.

"We advise lactating people to get a [Covid-19] vaccination," a spokesman for the agency told AFP on May 11, 2021.