Exclusion of pregnant and breastfeeding women from the pivotal randomized controlled trials for COVID-19 vaccines that led to emergency regulatory approval created gaps in data needed for vaccine policy, healthcare provider recommendations, and women’s decisions about vaccination. We argue that such knowledge gaps increase potential for vaccine hesitancy and misinformation relating to the health of women and infants, and that these gaps in evidence are avoidable.
Over several decades, ethical and scientific guidance, scholarship, and advocacy in favor of pregnant and breastfeeding women’s participation in clinical development of vaccines has accumulated. Guidance on how to include pregnant and breastfeeding women in vaccine trials ethically and safely predates the COVID-19 pandemic but has yet to be routinely incorporated in vaccine development.
We highlight the important role regulatory authorities could play in requiring that pregnant and breastfeeding women be eligible as volunteer participants in prelicensure vaccine trials for products that are expected to be used in this population. Inclusion of pregnant and breastfeeding populations in clinical trials leading to market approval or emergency use authorization should be undertaken early or concurrently at the time of trials in the general population.