PAHO urges pregnant women to get vaccinated against COVIDFriday, September 10, 2021
THE Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says disruptions to maternal and newborn care have worsened in this second year of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and is imploring pregnant and breastfeeding women to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
More than 270,000 pregnant women have fallen ill with COVID-19 in the Americas and more than one per cent of them have died from the virus, PAHO said Wednesday
At its weekly virtual media briefing, head of the organisation, Dr Carissa F Etienne, said the pandemic threatens to wipe away 20 years of hard-fought gains in the reduction of maternal deaths in the Caribbean and Latin America.PAHO has therefore recommended that all pregnant women receive the COVID-19 vaccine after their first trimester, as well as those who are breastfeeding.
“We know that if pregnant women become infected they have a higher risk of developing serious COVID symptoms, and more frequently require ventilation and intensive care, as compared to women who aren't pregnant. They also have a higher chance of delivering their baby early or prematurely. Yet the pandemic had a significant impact on the availability of pre-natal care and other essential services,” said Dr Etienne.
She said at least 40 per cent the countries in the Americas have reported disruptions to maternal and newborn care with countries like Belize and Guatemala reporting that pregnancy-related care has been disrupted in more than half of their health-care facilities.
“This means that far too many women had trouble getting a doctor's appointment at a time when care couldn't be more critical,” Dr Etienne said, pointing out that most countries in the region have already reported more cases and deaths among pregnant women this year than in 2020. Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil together account for half of all COVID deaths among pregnant women in the region, with Mexico and Colombia citing COVID-19 as having become the leading cause of maternal death.
“Nearly all maternal deaths are preventable and these losses are incalculable. Women play a central role in the well-being of their families and communities. And they are critical in helping countries recover and to rebuild from this pandemic. So, each maternal death leaves behind a vacuum for their loved ones and it has a ripple effect in all of society,” Dr Etienne stated.
The PAHO director said, however, that all is not lost as there is much that can be done to protect women of child-bearing age and prevent more losses, beginning with maintaining access to the health services that pregnant women depend on.
She advised that routine screenings and quick access to care are critical to keep mother and baby healthy and on track for a safe birth, so these must be deemed essential and prioritised.
Dr Etienne noted that while some countries are already vaccinating pregnant women, less than half of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have rolled out guidelines to vaccinate this population.
She stressed that COVID vaccines approved by WHO are safe for pregnant women and are a critical tool to protect expectant mothers during the pandemic.
Dr Etienne, meanwhile, said there are some encouraging signs in Mexico, for instance, where pregnant women have been prioritised for vaccinations for some time, and none of those vaccinated women have died from COVID during pregnancy.
She said vaccination has extended benefits, given that mothers pass on immunity through their babies through breastfeeding. “So COVID-19 vaccines can also help protect newborns from the virus,” she said.
– Alphea Sumner