The impact of Covid-19 globally has been profound, but many believe that we are now beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Getting the vaccine is critical and vital to end this pandemic. Although our vaccination drive was slow to start, but increased vaccine availability and accessibility as well as the availability of safety data have accelerated our vaccination rate to become one of the fastest in the world.
According to Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham, the number of ICU admissions and Covid-19 related hospitalisations have been reduced in states with higher vaccination rates.
Amid this remarkable progress, the nation was saddened by the death of local celebrity Siti Sarah Raisuddin. The mother of four succumbed to Covid-19 complications just days after delivering her premature infant. She was pregnant and yet to be vaccinated.
To date, Malaysia has recorded 70 maternal mortalities due to Covid-19 since the beginning of this pandemic. Although we do not have the exact global estimates and data on maternal mortalities due to Covid-19, the percentage of vaccine uptake among pregnant women is still low in comparison.
Many young women, pregnant and nursing mothers are opting to skip vaccination out of fear for their babies and their fertility. Rumours, inaccurate information and misconceptions about the vaccine have led these women to make such a decision, and this is worrisome because the best way to protect themselves, their children and family is to get vaccinated.
A multinational study has shown that pregnant women are at higher risk of developing severe maternal and neonatal complications with adverse outcomes due to Covid-19 infection. Therefore, protecting them and pushing for a higher vaccination uptake among our mothers is important.
Among the many complications include premature deliveries stillbirths and emergency caesarians. The initial hesitancy is understandable as many early clinical trials have not included pregnant or lactating mothers in their vaccine trials.
However, mothers are absorbing rumours rather than consulting their doctors when considering vaccination. Health education is the key.
Effort must be invested by relevant stakeholders to:
- Urge all pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to get vaccinated as recent studies have found that more than 17,000 pregnant and lactating mothers who received the Covid-19 vaccine did not experience symptoms any more severe than their non-pregnant counterparts.
- Respect mothers’ decision and counsel them. Although getting vaccinated is a personal choice, mothers should be urged to make decision after knowing the risks and benefits of vaccination.
- Emphasise the fact that contracting the infection is more dangerous than getting vaccinated, as shown by the daily figures in the Ministry of Health website.
- Provide the right information so they will not overestimate the risk of vaccines or underestimate the risk of Covid-19.
- Regularly promote evidence, though limited, that emphasise the benefits of vaccination among these vulnerable groups.
- Reinforce the current SOPs such as cough etiquette, handwashing, usage of medical masks and social distancing among pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.
Limited data and weak public messages on vaccination coupled with misinformation have left mothers to draw their own conclusions, which, naturally, is to assume the worst.
We strongly recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should not only be allowed to get their vaccinations, but must also be prioritised under the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (PICK).
We must take the opportunity to develop policies to include the Covid-19 vaccine in regular antenatal care. Let’s work together to reach the end of the tunnel and end this pandemic. No one should be left behind.
Dr Kalaashini Ramachandran, Prof Dr Maznah Dahlui, and Assoc Prof Dr Nik Daliana are from the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, and Dr Syed Abdul Khaliq is a neonatologist at the paediatric department of Sultan Ahmad Shah Medical Centre.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.