In December 2020, just before the vaccines for COVID-19 were first released to the public, Dr. Mandy Cohen, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources in North Carolina, urged everyone to get vaccinated as soon as they were able. “Corners were not cut,” Cohen said with confidence.
Then as now, pregnant women asked if COVID vaccines were safe for them. Public health officials said “yes” when the correct answer should have been “we don’t know yet,” given that pregnant and breastfeeding women were excluded from the original COVID vaccine trials. With Cohen set to replace Dr. Rochelle Walensky as director of the Center for Disease Control at the end of June, it is a good time to consider how Walensky performed on COVID—and in particular, on Women’s health issues—and ask whether Cohen will be any different.
In February 2021, to settle the controversy over whether the COVID vaccines should be used during pregnancy, Pfizer launched a randomized controlled trial of 4,000 pregnant women. But five months into the study, after enrolling 349 women, the study mysteriously stopped recruiting. Pfizer never offered a reason. Most concerning, the pregnancy outcomes of those who participated in the trial, and their babies, are still not public today, nearly two years later.
But the CDC did not wait for good data to make a decisive recommendation. In April 2021, just four months after the COVID vaccine was first granted an emergency use authorization and two months into the then ongoing Pfizer pregnancy trial, Walensky decided not to wait for the trial results, and instead recommended that all “pregnant people” get the vaccine. Three months later, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) followed the CDC and “enthusiastically” recommended it as well.