By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
THE Pan American Health Organization is recommending all pregnant women take COVID-19 vaccinations after their first trimester.
This was announced by PAHO’s director, Dr Carissa Etienne during the weekly webinar highlighting regional matters pertaining to COVID-19.
She said more than 270,000 pregnant women have become sick with COVID in the region and more than 2,600 of them (or one percent of those infected) have died from the virus.
Still, many pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers have been confused as to whether COVID-19 vaccines are safe for them to take. Dr Etienne sought to put their fears to rest.
“So, let me be clear, PAHO recommends that all pregnant women after their first trimester, as well as those who are breastfeeding, receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” Dr Etienne said.
“COVID vaccines approved by WHO are safe to administer during pregnancy and are a critical tool to protect expectant mothers during the pandemic.
“And, while it’s too soon to see the impact of vaccinations on cases and deaths, there are some encouraging signs: In Mexico, where pregnant women have been prioritised for vaccinations for some time, not a single vaccinated woman has died from COVID during pregnancy.”
Dr Etienne said it is extremely important that pregnant women have access to COVID vaccines.
“Vaccines have another advantage,” she continued. “A mother who breastfeeds passes immunity to her baby. So COVID-19 vaccines can also help protect newborns from the virus. It is critical that pregnant women maintain the public health measures proven effective against this virus.
“Wearing masks, maintaining social distance, limiting contact with people outside of their households and avoiding indoor gatherings are especially important to keep expecting mothers safe from COVID.
“Pregnancy can be one of the most important and fulfilling times in a woman’s life and a critical period for a baby’s growth and future.
“We owe it to the women in Latin America and the Caribbean to use all the tools at our disposal to protect them and their babies during the pandemic.”
Dr Etienne noted that a woman’s immune system changes during pregnancy, leaving them at higher risk of respiratory infections, like COVID-19.
“We know that if pregnant women get sick, they have a higher risk of developing serious COVID symptoms, and more frequently require ventilation and intensive care, when compared to women who aren’t pregnant,” she said. “They also have a higher chance of delivering their baby early or prematurely.
“Yet the pandemic had a significant impact on the availability of prenatal care and other essential services. At least 40 percent of the countries in our region have reported disruptions to maternal and newborn care – and these disruptions have become more widespread during this second year of the pandemic.”
Although The Bahamas continues to experience high rates of new COVID-19 infections and an overwhelmed healthcare system, PAHO officials have revealed that COVID-19 numbers have generally dropped throughout the Caribbean.
“While new infections are dropping in the Caribbean, we’re seeing a rise in COVID-related deaths across many islands, including St Maarten, Jamaica and Puerto Rico,” Dr Etienne said.
“Over the last week, there were nearly 1.5 million cases and more than 22,000 COVID-related deaths in the Americas. Today we’re seeing nearly double the number of infections reported this time last year.
“In North America, Canada is reporting a jump in new cases while hospitalizations continue to surge in the US, where hospitals remain saturated and ICU beds are in short supply in many US states.”