Professionally responsible coronavirus disease 2019 vaccination counseling of obstetrical and gynecologic patients.Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2021 05; 224(5):470-478.AJ
The development of coronavirus disease 2019 vaccines in the current and planned clinical trials is essential for the success of a public health response. This paper focuses on how physicians should implement the results of these clinical trials when counseling patients who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed about vaccines with government authorization for clinical use. Determining the most effective approach to counsel patients about coronavirus disease 2019 vaccination is challenging. We address the professionally responsible counseling of 3 groups of patients-those who are pregnant, those planning to become pregnant, and those breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed. We begin with an evidence-based account of the following 5 major challenges: the limited evidence base, the documented increased risk for severe disease among pregnant coronavirus disease 2019-infected patients, conflicting guidance from government agencies and professional associations, false information about coronavirus disease 2019 vaccines, and maternal mistrust and vaccine hesitancy. We subsequently provide evidence-based, ethically justified, practical guidance for meeting these challenges in the professionally responsible counseling of patients about coronavirus disease 2019 vaccination. To guide the professionally responsible counseling of patients who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, and breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed, we explain how obstetrician-gynecologists should evaluate the current clinical information, why a recommendation of coronavirus disease 2019 vaccination should be made, and how this assessment should be presented to patients during the informed consent process with the goal of empowering them to make informed decisions. We also present a proactive account of how to respond when patients refuse the recommended vaccination, including the elements of the legal obligation of informed refusal and the ethical obligation to ask patients to reconsider. During this process, the physician should be alert to vaccine hesitancy, ask patients to express their hesitation and reasons for it, and respectfully address them. In contrast to the conflicting guidance from government agencies and professional associations, evidence-based professional ethics in obstetrics and gynecology provides unequivocal and clear guidance: Physicians should recommend coronavirus disease 2019 vaccination to patients who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, and breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed. To prevent widening of the health inequities, build trust in the health benefits of vaccination, and encourage coronavirus disease 2019 vaccine and treatment uptake, in addition to recommending coronavirus disease 2019 vaccinations, physicians should engage with communities to tailor strategies to overcome mistrust and deliver evidence-based information, robust educational campaigns, and novel approaches to immunization.