Biologic treatment in pregnancy requires balancing risks



So what do these complications mean for vaccination strategies? Both the European Crohn’s and Colitis Organisation and the World Congress of Gastroenterology recommend that in terms of non-live vaccines, it’s safe to follow the same vaccine schedule as infants not exposed to biologicals in utero. When it comes to live attenuated vaccines such as rotavirus, oral polio, and BCG, these infants should be treated as immunocompromised and not receive these vaccines until after 6 months of age, when the biologicals should be at undetectable levels.

Future directions

Given that most infections and other adverse events happen after late exposure in pregnancy, some have recommended discontinuing anti-TNF treatment before the third trimester. In fact, this has become a common management practice. However, this should be an individualized decision made after discussion between a woman and her physician or physicians. Any benefits from early discontinuation of an immunoglobulin biological therapy should be weighed against the risk of disease flare, which also has real potential to complicate pregnancy.

The evidence presented here not only shines a light on the possible risk to infants, but also on the need for more high-quality evidence on which physicians can base decisions. Most of the available evidence is drawn from case reports and registry databases. Both of these suffer from a lack of control groups. To answer these questions definitively, we need more well-controlled studies of large populations. I strongly urge readers to follow the amazing work led by Dr. Uma Mahadevan and her colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco on biological use in pregnancy and long-term outcomes. As we wait for more evidence, we all look forward to the development of newer biologic agents that can help women control autoimmune disease without crossing the placenta.

Dr. Koren is professor of pharmacology and pharmacy at the University of Toronto. He is the founding director of the Motherisk Program. He reported having no financial disclosures related to this article. Email him at


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