LETTER | 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, increased vaccine availability and accessibility as well as the safety data has accelerated our vaccination rate to be one of the fastest in the world.
According to our Director-General of Health Dr Noor Hisham, the number of ICU admission and Covid-19 related hospitalisation has reduced in states with higher vaccination rates.
Amidst this remarkable progress, the nation was saddened by the death of the local artiste, 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 mortality due to Covid-19 since the beginning of this pandemic. Although we do not have the exact global estimates and data on maternal mortality 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 baby and fertility. False rumours, misinformation and misconception of vaccines had led these women to make such decisions 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, hence protecting them and pushing for a higher vaccination uptake among our mothers is important. Among the many complications include, premature delivery, stillbirth and emergency caesarian sections.
The initial hesitancy is understandable as many early clinical trials have not included pregnant or lactating mothers in their vaccine trial. However, mothers are absorbing rumours much more quickly than consulting their doctors when considering vaccinating. Health education is the key.
Effort must be invested by relevant stakeholders to:
1. Urge all pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to get vaccinated as a recent study has found that more than 17,000 pregnant and lactating mothers who received the Covid-19 vaccine didn’t experience symptoms any more severe than their non-pregnant counterparts.
2. Respect the mother’s decision and counsel them. Although getting vaccinated is a personal choice, mothers should be urged to make the decision after knowing the true risks and benefits of vaccination only.
3. Emphasise the fact that contracting the infection is more dangerous than getting vaccinated as shown by our daily figures in the Health Ministry website.
4. Provide the right information so they would not overestimate the risk of vaccination or underestimate the risk of Covid-19.
5. Regularly promote evidence, though limited but increasing on the benefits of vaccination among these vulnerable groups.
6. Reinforce the current SOPs such as cough etiquettes, handwashing, usage of medical masks and social distancing among our pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.
Limited data and weak public messaging on vaccination coupled with the misinformation available online 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 vaccination but must be prioritised under the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme. The devastating death of many pregnant mothers should be made into our window of opportunity to develop policies to include the covid-19 vaccine in the regular antenatal care.
Let’s work together to reach the end of the tunnel and end this pandemic. No one should be left behind.
This statement is jointly written by DR KALAASHINI RAMACHANDRAN, Professor DR MAZNAH DAHLUI, Associate Professor DR NIK DALIANA, Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya and DR SYED ABDUL KHALIQ, Neonatologist, Paediatric Department, Sultan Ahmad Shah Medical Centre @ IIUM.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.