The Union Health Ministry recently stated that pregnant women are eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19. However, there are certain women who are unaware of the benefits of getting vaccinated during their pregnancy and the steps they should follow to protect their child and themselves from the infection.
In an interview posted by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Dr. Manju Puri, Head of Department, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Lady Hardinge Medical College, New Delhi, talks about the recent decision to introduce COVID-19 vaccine for women during pregnancy and the precautions that they should take to protect themselves and their baby from COVID-19.
Question: It has now been approved that woman can take COVID-19 vaccines even during pregnancy. How will it help?
Dr Manju Puri: During the second wave, many women contracted COVID-19 during pregnancy compared to the first wave. This can lead to serious complications during pregnancy as the uterus is enlarged and presses on the diaphragm. Vaccines will help prevent severe diseases in pregnant women. Also, vaccinating a mother is likely to give some degree of protection to the new-born as the antibodies developed in the mother’s body post-vaccination will pass on to the developing foetus through her blood.
Question: Some people believe that vaccines can cause infertility among women. Is it true?
Dr Manju Puri: The Covid-19 vaccines do not cause infertility and there is no scientific data or studies that show that vaccines can cause infertility. The vaccine does not affect the reproductive organs in any way. Vaccines help the body develop immunity against a specific pathogen and do not affect any other body tissue.
Question: What precautions should a pregnant woman take to protect herself from catching COVID?
Dr Manju Puri: Women should use all Covid-appropriate precautions during pregnancy and after childbirth as it can prevent them from catching the infection and related complications. An expectant mother should wear a mask and maintain physical distance even when at home, amongst her family members. It is because she may not be going out, but her husband or family members could be going to work and she can contract the infection from them.
Question: What should a pregnant woman do if she shows symptoms of Covid-19?
Dr Manju Puri: If a woman has any symptoms of COVID, she should get herself tested at the earliest. She should drink plenty of fluids, check her temperature and oxygen saturation every 4-6 hours. If there is a fall in oxygen concentration or if it is decreasing, she needs to get in touch with her doctor. Women who have illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, obesity, need to be more careful, as they may need hospitalization.
Question: Can a foetus contract Covid-19 from the mother?
Dr Manju Puri: There is no evidence to support claims that the placenta acts as a protective barrier against Covid-19 infection. There are a few cases where the new-born were found infected but we are not sure whether those babies got the infection inside the mother’s womb or soon after the birth. Having said that, as I have explained earlier, pregnant women must take all the possible precautions to prevent the infection as Covid-19 can affect her and her child in many other ways.
Question: What precautions should a COVID positive mother take to protect her newborn?
Dr Manju Puri: A mother should continue to breastfeed the baby but is advised to keep the baby at a distance of 6 feet from her when she is not breastfeeding. A caregiver who is tested negative can also help in taking care of the newborn. Before breastfeeding the newborn, she should wash her hands, wear protective gear such as a mask, face shield. She should also sanitize her surroundings frequently.
Question: Postpartum depression and anxiety are common among women. Do you see an increase in mental health issues among women during the pandemic?
Dr Manju Puri: There is an increase in mental health problems among women during pregnancy and post-childbirth. Isolation for 15-days is difficult for everyone, but more so for pregnant women and postnatal mothers. Doctors, as well as family members, need to watch a woman’s behavior carefully during this time. The family should stay in touch through video calls, and observe any change in her mood and seek medical help if she looks and feels depressed.
Question: What advice would you like to give to your women patients?
Dr Manju Puri: Women with symptoms suggestive of COVID need to seek medical help immediately and should not delay the diagnosis. They are advised to take vaccine as and when it is available to them and avoid meeting many people. All pregnant women should be counselled about various contraceptive methods during pregnancy. Postpartum Intra-Uterine Device (Cu T) can be inserted immediately after childbirth or caesarean delivery. It saves them of an unnecessary visit to the hospital after childbirth and reduces the risk of an unplanned pregnancy.