Prioritise vaccinating expectant mothers

The many ways Covid-19 can affect humans is one of the key topics that keeps popping up in the discussions on combatting Covid-19, and identifying and protecting the groups that are more prone to contracting Covid-19 and/or experiencing complications due to the virus, is the foremost concern of those endeavouring to mitigate the pandemic. Owing to this risk, urgency, and limited resources, Sri Lanka too has had to prioritise groups that need to be vaccinated before others, and for the most part, these groups comprised frontline healthcare workers and the elderly.

However, as the aggressiveness and contagiousness of the Covid-19 virus keeps changing, the status quo is such that no country can focus solely on the previously identified groups as being at a higher risk of contracting the virus than others. Sri Lanka’s first death of a Covid-19-infected expectant mother which was reported this week did not receive adequate attention, perhaps due to the overall number of daily cases and deaths being on the rise. However, it is a grim reminder that Sri Lanka needs to step up its efforts to counter the pandemic, especially concerning identifying other vulnerable groups.

According to the information available to The Morning, at present, there are five Covid-19-positive expectant mothers in Intensive Care Units (ICUs) in the country, and the Ministry of Health is also considering vaccinating expectant mothers to prevent more severe infections. However, records also suggest that a final decision has not been arrived at yet, despite the high possibility of expectant mothers contracting the virus and them being at a higher risk not only because of their physical health condition but also due to the country’s overall situation.

When it comes to vaccinating expectant mothers, not only Sri Lanka, but a considerable number of countries around the globe are also in a state of uncertainty, as very limited information is available about the pros and cons of administering the vaccine on expectant mothers, mainly due to each expectant mother’s condition being unique. The Ministry of Health has acknowledged the importance of vaccinating expectant mothers, and experts in the medical field have put forward suggestions requesting that at least working expectant mothers and also expectant mothers who have other medical conditions be vaccinated as a start.

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the national public health agency of the US, clinical trials are underway and it is planning to study as to how well the expectant mothers’ bodies would react to the vaccine. However, in addition to medical factors, other factors such as allergies and the immune system, and social factors such as the area of residence, also play a certain role when it comes to their suitability to get vaccinated and the ability to benefit from it without experiencing side effects.

The bottom line is that, as Sri Lankan health authorities have pointed out, it is not possible to employ a blanket policy to vaccinate all expectant mothers, as their bodies and conditions are unique, and therefore how their bodies react to the vaccine cannot be predicted. This situation, however, does not negate the fact that all expectant mothers are at a higher risk than those who are not pregnant, and local health experts, yesterday (6), cautioned that expectant mothers face a higher risk of experiencing complications after the 28th week of pregnancy. It was also stated that approximately 80% of expectant mothers who contract the virus are less likely to show symptoms before the completion of the 28th week. Researchers say that these complications may range from extremely mild to severe, and in the case of expectant mothers, any complication has the potential to affect the foetus.

Even though the issue of expectant mothers getting the Covid-19 vaccine is currently in an uncertain state, the health authorities have commenced discussions in this connection. Also, it is a reality that despite the higher risk and necessity, the availability of resources also plays a significant role in this process. At the end of the day, every safety concern related to Covid-19 boils down to the cardinal rule that prevention is better than cure, and prevention is still the best solution to Covid-19, and in this regard, safeguarding expectant mothers, who carry the lives of future generations in their wombs, deserve and should receive the best of our precautions in these uncertain times.