Pregnant couples wary of vaccine, but medical experts advise taking the jabSunday, September 05, 2021
BY ROMARDO LYONS
There is fear among some pregnant couples that taking the COVID-19 vaccine could harm their unborn children, as the health and wellness ministry ramps up its efforts to get most of the population inoculated. This, officials believe, is an even greater reason for there to be increased engagement with expecting parents to boost take-up among pregnant women.
Dr Michael Abrahams, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, says there have been mixed views among pregnant women who have consulted him in recent times about taking the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Some of my pregnant patients have decided to take it and others have declined because they are worried about their pregnancy, which I do understand. But it's kind of a mixed response that I've gotten. I haven't had anybody who has had any negative experience with that,” Abrahams told the Jamaica Observer.
“Some people will say they have heard about women getting the vaccine and then miscarrying, but if you are having mass vaccinations abroad and literally millions of people have been vaccinated, you are going to have a lot of pregnant women being vaccinated and a lot of women will miscarry, whether they are vaccinated or not. The data show that the risk is not increased,” he added.
When the Sunday Observer contacted pregnant couples, the dominant reasoning was that the vaccine poses a threat to unborn infants, and in some cases, their mothers.
Udia Russell, a hairdresser who is six months pregnant, is one of those women. She also hasn't consulted her doctor about it.
“I didn't ask him and he didn't say anything. To be honest, I'm not considering taking the vaccine any at all. You're hearing that you should take the vaccine and whatever, but you're not hearing about the possible long-term effects. I know somebody that took the vaccine, she was sickly and she took the vaccine and died. That is why it is a no-no for me,” Russell said.
Because of that concern, she thinks more discussions need to be had with pregnant women about the COVID-19 vaccines.
“I don't think it's safe. I think there needs to be more explanations about this vaccine. Some people take it because they know what is what. But some people need more explanation, so they [officials] need to come out and talk to those people. A nuh everybody a go tek things and put inna them body and nuh know what it really is. They need to tell us the long-term and short-term effects of this thing,” Russell argued.
Abrahams agreed that such reassurance could boost vaccine take-up among pregnant women.
“Just reassure them that the data show that it will not harm them,” he said. “We have to have these ongoing conversations and tell them it's not what you as a doctor think, but what the data show. And that is what the data is showing so far.”
A woman who gave her name as Camile, who is also six months pregnant, told the Sunday Observer that upon consultation with her doctor she has decided to take the vaccine soon.
“My main concern is my son. I want know that once I take the vaccine he won't be affected by it. I consulted my [doctor] and she said it was safe for me to take. Also, with the rapid spread of the virus, I truly wish I had taken it already. Corona doesn't seem to be leaving soon, so I'm trying to do my best to keep safe from it,” she said, noting that the baby's father is also on board.
Jason Gibore, a photographer whose spouse is pregnant, is sceptical about the vaccine, but said he wouldn't face her down if she decides to take it.
“I for one not comfortable with the vaccine overall much less for her to take it while pregnant. But honestly, I wouldn't oppose her, being that she has a right to choose to take it or not, but I would just ask what impact it would have on her health and the baby. What if she becomes ill after she takes it? What would happen to the baby then?” Gibore reasoned.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has urged teenagers and women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to get pregnant to get vaccinated against COVID-19 amidst the surge of the highly transmissible Delta variant.
According to the CDC, “Although the overall risk of severe illness is low, pregnant and recently pregnant people are at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 when compared to non-pregnant people.”
Peter Figueroa, professor of public health, epidemiology and HIV/AIDS at The University of the West Indies, told the Sunday Observer that it appears as if a newborn will get “some protection” from their mothers if she is vaccinated.
“There is no problem giving a vaccine also to mothers who are breastfeeding their babies. There is no harm to the baby who is being breastfed. So definitely, vaccinating pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers helps protect them and it also does pass on some protection to the newborn infant,” he assured.
“In a situation where the Delta variant is causing so many cases, it's highly transmissible and pregnant women are more at risk of severe COVID; we are saying that it is important that all pregnant women vaccinate as soon as possible,” Professor Figueroa said.
However, Gibore still believes it's too great a risk for his unborn child.
“What is to stop the vaccine that may not or may harm the mother… because of, let's say a reaction to the vaccine because of genetic complications? What is to stop that complication from harming the baby? That would be my next question. But as I said, I personally don't like the idea of the vaccine overall because of side effects that may or may not occur; and with the virus mutation that takes place over time creating new strains, what happens then? Will the mother and baby still be protected?” he contended.
Dr Sunil Kumar, chief of staff and medical director of Broward Health Medical Center's Intensive Care Unit in Fort Lauderdale, United States, said some unvaccinated new mothers' conditions have deteriorated right after they had their babies.
At a news conference on August 24, Kumar advised pregnant women: “If for no other reason, if you love that baby, please go get vaccinated.”
Tisheeka Crooks, who is eight months pregnant, told the Sunday Observer that she will consult multiple doctors, at her next clinic appointment, for advice on whether she should take the vaccine.
“Me just fraid. When I go to clinic I will ask if I should. If they say no, I won't take it. If they say it will protect me and the baby, I will consider it. When mi find out what them a say at the clinic, if a so, a just so. I don't want to just take it like that,” she said.
Figueroa said that when there is a new vaccine, health officials are always very careful about giving it to pregnant women.
“We don't want to do anything in giving any kind of medication or any other products to a woman who is pregnant and it affects the foetus. So with the new COVID vaccines, during the clinical trials, they did not include pregnant women. They did do tests on animals, where they gave the vaccine to pregnant animals in the lab. And for all the authorised vaccines so far, they did not find any problem in those animals that received the vaccine,” he said.
“In the clinical trials, pregnant women were not included because usually you want to make sure that a vaccine or a medication is safe for everybody before you pass it to pregnant women.”
Figueroa said once the vaccines were given emergency use listing and were being rolled out, pregnant women were vaccinated.
“Some of the women who were pregnant got the vaccine with women who didn't know that they were pregnant. Those women were followed to make sure that the vaccine did not have any ill-effect on either them or their unborn baby [and] when the baby was born. What we are realising is that it is better that pregnant women are vaccinated in order to prevent them from getting COVID or severe COVID.
“Normally, we would tell pregnant women that we wouldn't want to give them most vaccines in the first three months, because that is the period when the unborn child in the womb is growing most rapidly,” he explained.
When the Sunday Observer contacted Dr Melody Ennis, director of Family Health Services in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, she said she wasn't able to provide the number of pregnant women who have been vaccinated locally.
“We don't disaggregate it like that,” Dr Ennis said.
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