Urgent alert: Pregnant women need the COVID-19 vaccines

Dear Editor,
More than 160 expectant mothers have died from COVID, the USA’s CDC reported. Twenty-two of them died in August 2021.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Wednesday September 29, 2021, issued its strongest guidance to date, urging pregnant women to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The guidance comes as more than quarter of a million cases of COVID in pregnant women have been reported, 22,000 of whom were hospitalised in the USA, according to the CDC.
According to reports from the CDC, a total of 161 pregnant women have died of COVID-19, with 22 deaths occurring in August. Yet, less than a third of pregnant women have been vaccinated.
The new notice is meant to strengthen previous CDC guidance issued last month, when the agency first advised pregnant women to get the vaccine.
It’s well established that people with underlying health conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, are at increased risk of developing COVID complications. Pregnancy has also been considered an underlying health condition.
The guidance extends to women trying to become pregnant, as well as those who have recently given birth or who may be breastfeeding.
Apparently, pregnant women are at risk of developing complications from COVID. Overwhelmingly, these complications have occurred in women who were unvaccinated. One complication of COVID during pregnancy is pre-term birth, which puts a newborn at risk as well.
In general, premature babies are more likely to have compromised respiratory function, because of their underdeveloped lungs. But if a premature baby with underdeveloped lungs ends up with COVID (likely from exposure to the mother after birth), that newborn is at risk of developing additional breathing issues. While it is rare, some of the youngest COVID patients had need to be placed on ventilators.
CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky strongly encourages those who are pregnant or considering pregnancy to talk with their healthcare provider about the protective benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine to keep their babies and themselves safe.
One must understand that communicating the risks of COVID to pregnant women is neither easy nor straightforward. Many doctors have confirmed that many such women are loathe to get the shots, sometimes falling prey to misinformation about the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness.
One recent study in the USA, however, showed no increased risk for miscarriage after at least one dose of the Moderna or the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. The miscarriage rate of the approximately 2,500 women in the study was about the same as would be expected in the general population.
In August, when the CDC released data confirming the vaccine’s safety for those who are pregnant and breastfeeding, cue our sigh of relief. Yet, many in this demographic and our country remain unconvinced and unvaccinated. As of August, data in the USA shows that only about one in every four pregnant women reported vaccination, yet there’s been a surge in severe cases of pregnant women contracting the virus since July, as reported by doctors and evidenced by an uptake in ICU admissions and deaths; highlighting the devastating impact of COVID-19 among pregnant women, who have an increased risk of severe illness from the virus, along with higher chance of preterm birth and poor pregnancy outcomes.
However, recommendations are not enough to combat many pregnant women’s concerns about the vaccine. The nine-month gap between its initial availability and formal safety sign-off exacerbated matters, creating a vacuum filled with confusion and misinformation.
However, getting vaccinated during pregnancy is the best way pregnant women can give protection to their newborn against COVID-19. Data shows there is no effect on fertility or miscarriage rates. Beyond potentially keeping babies safe through protective antibodies, the vaccine provides crucial protective measures for vulnerable expecting parents.
Pregnant women with COVID do worse than their non-pregnant counterparts, including higher need for ventilator support and higher death rates. There must be a need to continue focusing on the proven benefits of vaccination.
There are plenty of pregnant women who have been vaccinated, with great outcomes. I hope that rates will continue to rise; we need more protection to mitigate the deaths we are seeing in pregnant unvaccinated women.
It would be great to have long-term data aggressively published across Guyana for women to see the benefits of the vaccines, with the evidences of safety for now.

David Adams