In the Airlines Confidential podcast last week, former Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza – talking about vaccine requirements and dismissal of employees who don’t get vaccinated – offered that it’s reasonable to exclude pregnant woman. United Airlines has said that anyone who gets a medical or religious exemption to vaccine requirements won’t be allowed to work (and won’t get paid).
The big airlines have been told they risk federal subsidies if they do not require vaccination without a testing alternative. And several carriers have gotten in line threatening to terminate any employee not vaccinated. They’d also face an expected OSHA emergency mandate for employers to require vaccination (a rule still not released a month after the President announced it).
However the ‘pregnant women shouldn’t get vaccinated’ line Baldanza offers is troubling.
I’m also concerned about pregnant women, especially if they’re early in their pregnancy and may not be affecting their job performance in any way yet and so they can still go to work gainfully every day. And yet they’re probably told not to get the vaccine if they’re not yet vaccinated, and I would hate to see people like that lose their job because they can’t. I would like in that sort of case as well when your doctor says it’s safe after the birth we’ll give you two months after the birth or something like that.
When you tell a story about potential risks, especially relying on “this is new, we don’t know” you bear some responsibility for at least explaining the biomedical mechanism through which supposedly bad effects might happen.
In any case, people are bad at evaluating risk, because while there’s little in the world that’s risk free (people die every year from buckets) you have to weigh risks of not taking an action as well. In this case the CDC is clear in its vaccination recommendation for women seeking to get pregnant, who are pregnant, or who are breastfeeding. It’s important to know,
- There’s no observed increased risk of miscarriage
- There have been billions of vaccine doses administered, including to pregnant woman and indeed women early in their pregnancy without unique problems identified
- Actually getting Covid-19 during pregnancy appears worse
- Vaccination during pregnancy has conferred antibodies that should be protective for newborns
[C]ompared with nonpregnant symptomatic people with Covid-19, those who are pregnant and symptomatic have a more than twofold increased risk of being admitted into an intensive care unit, the C.D.C. reports, and a 70 percent increased risk of death from the disease. Pregnant women with Covid are also at a higher risk of complications like preterm birth or stillbirth or their newborns being admitted to an intensive care unit compared with pregnant people without Covid-19.
Repeating narratives like pregnant women shouldn’t get vaccinated is dangerous – only around a third of pregnant women have taken shots, and they appear to be putting themselves and their unborn children at greater risk as a result. To be sure, public health has failed pregnant women by insufficiently studying them, and the CDC has failed to do the kind of data collection that would be reassuring. It’s understandable why Mr. Baldanza might have these misconceptions, but his statements aren’t based on the best available evidence nor do they do a good job weighing relative risk.