Least not forget that the pandemic has been difficult for everyone around the world but has been worse for people who suffer from chronic diseases or for pregnant women who are concern about not getting infected but also passing on the infection to their children. According to medical experts, pregnant women carry less risk of getting infected by Covid-19 if they observe social distancing and stay indoors. However, women who contract the virus during pregnancy carry a higher risk of developing respiratory complications—exposing them of being out on a ventilator more than others.
Against this backdrop, the United States Center for Disease Control (US-CDC) has begun urging women, especially pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers to take advantage of the ongoing vaccination exercise. CDC Country Director to Liberia, Rachel T. Idowu called on women not to buy into misinformation and myths circulating online and through other means about the Covid-19 vaccines harming fertility and pregnancy. “Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers need to take the vaccines,” she said, “It will protect them and their children against the virus.”
Madam Idowu, in a very confident mood, said at a press conference last week that the vaccine is safe for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers to take, noting that failure for them to take the vaccine possesses a death threat to their lives because they are expose to severe illness during such time. “We can confidently say that if you are pregnant and didn’t take the vaccine and you are exposed to the environment, you have a higher risk of severe illness and a higher risk of death because you are pregnant and not vaccinated. That is why it is important for pregnant women to take the Covid vaccine,” she said.
There are several myths spread online. The most common myths include “the vaccine causes infertility” or that “the new technology could harm an unborn baby.” All of these are false, Dr. Moses S. Ziah, a medical doctor at the government’s main coronavirus treatment center located at Star-Base on the Bushrod Island, said in an interview. “The myths about the vaccine are making efforts to contain the pandemic difficult. Many are reluctant and hesitant about getting the COVID-19 vaccine,” he said, “Liberians are not coming out to take the jabs and this is worrisome.”
Dr. Ziah’s concern about the myths holding people back is validated by a high level of vaccine hesitancy in the country with only 0.18 percent of an estimated the population of 5 million people fully vaccinated. This means out of the 95,423 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines brought in the country, only 9, 135 people have received their full jabs. There is no record of pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers taking the vaccine. Madam Idowu’s admonition is the first time for a health authority to talk on pregnant women and babies mothers’ participation in the immunization process.
The Incident Management System (IMS), which supervises the national response and the Health Ministry, have been mute on the benefits or side-effects that the jabs would have on this category of the population since the launch of the AstraZeneca in April, and recently the Johnson & Johnson in the country. The CDC Country Director’s admonition comes on the back of guidance from both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM). Both groups recommended anyone who is pregnant or breast feeding should get the COVID-19 vaccine.
These health experts report there is a growing body of research that shows the three available vaccines are safe and effective for pregnant women. Additional new data shows that pregnant women who get the vaccine in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy do not increase their risk of miscarriage. “If a mom gets a COVID vaccination when she’s pregnant and she breastfeeds… she passes along her immunity through her breast-milk to her baby and it helps protect her baby from getting an infection as a newborn,” Dr. Paul Browne, a renowned maternal health expert in the US said. On the flip side, Browne said moms who get COVID-19 while pregnant significantly increase their risk of premature delivery.
However, pregnant women were excluded from the initial stages of major Covid-19 vaccine programs, especially the clinical trials, due to lack of safety information. The Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (RCOG) in the UK and the CDC have since recommended Covid vaccines for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers. They assured the safety of vaccines during pregnancy—this has prompted experts to demand an amendment in the vaccination policy during pregnancy. According to the RCOG, pregnant women are clinically vulnerable to Covid. Vaccination will reduce the risk of severe Covid during pregnancy and thus reduce maternal and newborn mortality.
In Scotland, 4,000 pregnant women were also vaccinated against Covid and none of them showed any detrimental side effects of the vaccine, health authorities of that country said. The Covid vaccine is also safe for lactating mothers the CDC said, and studies have shown that vaccine-generated antibodies can be released into breast milk. But, none of the studies detected any other components of vaccines in breast milk. Meanwhile, the Director of Infectious Disease Control and Epidemiology at the National Public Health of Liberia(NPHIL), Thomas Nagbe at last week press conference said at least over 5,000 persons have received the J&J jabs.
Sixty-nine percent of that numbers are male, Nagbe, who is the IMS National Pillar Lead for Case Investigation, noted. “We want more women to take the jabs. Our pregnant women and baby mommies need to be protected,” he said.
This story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Rights Reporting (JHR), the mobilizing media in the fight against COVID-19 in partnership with Frontpage Africa and Heritage Newspaper.