Inadequate support: Wolf’s claim only relies on anecdotal accounts, without providing any clinical evidence.
FULL CLAIM: “Since the vaccine rolled out, [a midwife]’s seen no normal placenta […] they’re all compromised”; “Some of them are shrunken, so not big enough to deliver a normal baby, and many midwives are reporting that they have to deliver babies early because the placenta can’t sustain a full-term baby”
COVID-19 vaccination for pregnant women has been a recurring subject of scientific disinformation since the onset of the vaccination campaigns in 2021. Health Feedback explained in previous reviews how COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy is safe and protects individuals from the risks of pregnancy complications caused by COVID-19.
However, claims that COVID-19 vaccines increased the risk of negative pregnancy outcomes continue to circulate. In April 2023, writer Naomi Wolf claimed that COVID-19 vaccines caused placenta malformations, hampering full-term pregnancies.
Reporting on her earlier interview of midwife Ellen Jasmer, Wolf stated that Jasmer had seen “no normal placenta […] since the vaccine rolled out”. Wolf said that some of the placentas were “shrunken, so not big enough to deliver a normal baby” and that “midwives were reporting that they ha[d] to deliver babies early because the placenta can’t sustain a full-term baby”. Wolf also alleged that vaccination compromised the health of newborns as they were “rushed to the hospital within a day because they are in respiratory distress and [Jasmer had] never seen that so frequently before”.
However, the results of clinical studies accumulated since the rollout of COVID-19 vaccination contradict all these statements, demonstrating the safety of vaccines for pregnant women, as we’ll show below.
Several studies showed that COVID-19 vaccination doesn’t cause malformations or deficiencies of the placenta.
Shanes et al. compared the placenta of vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals and found no increase in placental lesions after vaccination. Another study confirmed these results and found no anatomical differences between the placenta from vaccinated mothers with that of unvaccinated mothers.
A study by Boelig et al. specifically investigated a type of placental defect known as maternal vascular malperfusion (MVM) where the blood flow on the mother’s side of the placenta is impaired, leading to a range of negative pregnancy outcomes. There again, the study found no increase in MVM among vaccinated women.
By contrast, several studies reported an association between COVID-19 and a higher rate of placental vascular and inflammatory pathologies.
Boelig et al. reported a higher rate of MVM in the placenta of unvaccinated women who got COVID-19 during pregnancy compared to either the vaccination group or the control group—unvaccinated and without COVID-19. Other studies reported similar results[5-8].
In rarer cases, COVID-19 can cause a pathology called placentitis that can destroy large parts of the placenta and negatively affect the pregnancy outcome[9,10].
While the above studies relied on post-natal analysis of the placenta, other researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to assess the effect of SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy. They found that SARS-CoV-2 infection was associated with an increase in hemorrhages, as well as a placenta thickening suggestive of placental insufficiency.
Altogether, these results show that getting COVID-19 while pregnant may increases the risk of placenta malfunction, whereas vaccination doesn’t. Given that vaccination protects from severe COVID-19, it is particularly beneficial for pregnant women. This is why the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends vaccination against COVID-19 for pregnant individuals.
Wolf also claimed that vaccinated individuals could compromise the placenta of unvaccinated people through a process called shedding. This is most likely a reference to the claim that vaccinated individuals release spike proteins that can be spread to unvaccinated individuals. But there is no data or plausible biological mechanism suggesting that COVID-19 vaccines can cause shedding, as Health Feedback explained in an earlier review, and Wolf failed to produce any supporting evidence in the video.
Health Feedback reached out to Wolf for comment and will update this review if new information becomes available.
In summary, research so far has shown that COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy isn’t associated with placental defects. Numerous studies also showed that COVID-19 vaccines don’t cause miscarriages, stillbirths, or preterm births, as Health Feedback reported before. In fact, COVID-19 vaccination is instrumental in protecting pregnant women from pregnancy complications caused by SARS-CoV-2 infection, including placenta inflammation and vascular defects.
- 1 – Shanes et al. (2021) Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) Vaccination in Pregnancy. Obstetrics & Gynecology.
- 2 – Smithgall et al. (2022) Placental pathology in women vaccinated and unvaccinated against SARS-CoV-2. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
- 3 – Boelig et al. (2022) Impact of COVID-19 disease and COVID-19 vaccination on maternal or fetal inflammatory response, placental pathology, and perinatal outcomes. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
- 4 – Di Girolamo et al. (2021) Placental histopathology after SARS-CoV-2 infection in pregnancy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology MFM.
- 5 – Glynn et al. (2022) SARS-CoV-2 and Placental Pathology: Malperfusion Patterns Are Dependent on Timing of Infection During Pregnancy. The American Journal of Surgical Pathology.
- 6 – Milot et al. (2023) Development of placental lesions after recovery from COVID-19 during pregnancy: case–control study. Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
- 7 – Rebutini et al. (2021) Association Between COVID-19 Pregnant Women Symptoms Severity and Placental Morphologic Features. Frontiers in Immunology.
- 8 – Smithgall et al. (2020) Third‐trimester placentas of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS‐CoV‐2)‐positive women: histomorphology, including viral immunohistochemistry and in‐situ hybridization. Histopathology.
- 9 – Stenton et al. (2022) SARS-COV2 placentitis and pregnancy outcome: A multicentre experience during the Alpha and early Delta waves of coronavirus pandemic in England. eClinical Medicine.
- 10 – Schwartz et al. (2023) SARS-CoV-2 placentitis, stillbirth, and maternal COVID-19 vaccination: clinical–pathologic correlations. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
- 11 – Kienast et al. (2023) SARS-CoV-2 variant-related abnormalities detected by prenatal MRI: a prospective case–control study. The Lancet Regional Health Europe.