Pregnant women are extremely cautious when it comes to what they put into their bodies, considering the need to protect their health and that of their babies.
The question of whether to ask expectant women to go for the Covid-19 jab has, however, kept experts on the horns of a dilemma for some time.
And now, given increased risks of maternal, foetal and neonatal complications, experts and the government are considering having pregnant women take the Covid-19 vaccine during their clinic visits, as the benefits seem to outweigh the risks.
“We take care of people’s health and, given that they are carrying a life that is at the same time at risk, they need to take this vaccination seriously. They are very delicate and fall under at-risk groups. Given the complications that come when they are infected, we’ll be forced to have them vaccinated during their clinic visits,” said Dr Willis Akhwale, the Covid-19 Vaccine Task Force chairperson.
He said pregnant women who are admitted to hospital with Covid-19 face severe outcomes as the virus strikes the lungs and the cardiovascular system, which are already strained in pregnancy.
“Viral infection in pregnant women can kill. We have known that for influenza even though it is a different virus family. We need to take precautions,” he said.
Expectant women run a higher risk of severe illness and pregnancy complications from the coronavirus, including miscarriages and stillbirths.
Vaccination rates low
But their vaccination rates are low, with only about 23 per cent having received at least one dose, according to Centres for Disease Control (CDC) data.
“The vaccines are safe and effective, and it has never been more urgent to increase vaccinations as we face the highly transmissible Delta variant and see severe outcomes from Covid-19 among unvaccinated pregnant people,’’ CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.
CDC urges all pregnant women to get the Covid-19 vaccine after the findings of a study ruled out increased risk of miscarriage.
This follows a CDC analysis of new safety data against the backdrop of low vaccination rates among pregnant women.
Women are being driven away by mixed guidelines, miscommunication and myths about pregnant people getting vaccinated for Covid-19.
Pregnant women are often advised to consult their doctors since not enough research has been done on the effect of the jabs on pregnancy.
On Tuesday last week, eight-month-pregnant Marion Atieno, a teacher, succumbed to the virus. Reason? She was not willing to go for the jab.
She feared it would harm her baby and was only willing to take it after delivery. Unfortunately, both mother and unborn baby did not survive.
“If Ms Atieno had been fully vaccinated, we might not be talking about death now but, since she was not protected and her immunity was compromised, it was a different story,” said a doctor who sought anonymity.
Gynaecologist Aggrey Akula told the Nation that pregnancy is a bad time to get infected with respiratory viruses and the only way to avoid severe infection is to get vaccinated.
“I support the view that the government should implement vaccination of pregnant mothers because, once they are in hospital, there is very little that can be done to arrest the situation,” Dr Akula said.
Keep baby, mother safe
He added: “We can only support and try to keep the baby safe if the mother was near delivery but the key thing is to get vaccinated. It is important and safe for both the mother and the baby.”
Kenya Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society (Kogs) council member and chairman of Central branch, Dr Simon Kigondu, said pregnant women are now increasingly being admitted to hospital with severe Covid-19, with many in intensive care units. The gynaecologist at the Murang’a Level Five Hospital said some women have lost their babies and Kogs now recommends that pregnant women should go for the Covid-19 vaccine.
“They are at an increased risk of pre-term birth and we are seeing a trend towards increased bad outcomes for women with Covid-19,” Dr Kigondu said.
The International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics (Figo) recommends Covid-19 vaccination for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Figo considers that there are no risks — actual or theoretical — that would outweigh the potential benefits of vaccination for pregnant women and supports offering Covid-19 vaccination to pregnant and breastfeeding women.