TNS Explainer: What pregnant women should know before receiving the COVID-19 vaccine?

India has taken a significant leap in its COVID-19 vaccination drive after the Union Health Ministry has approved the vaccination for pregnant women, the category that was left out during the three phases of the vaccination programme. The Health Ministry has issued guidelines concerning vaccinating pregnant women and allaying their hesitancy in receiving the shot. 

The guidelines from the Ministry have come days after the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Director-General Dr Balram Bhargava said that pregnant women can be vaccinated against the COVID-19 pandemic. According to reports, the ministry has unveiled a fact sheet to inculcate the frontline workers and vaccinators on counselling pregnant women about the importance of vaccines and precautions of the pandemic. This TNS Explainer takes the pregnant women on how and why they should receive the vaccine, as per the guidelines.

According to the face sheet, a frontline worker or a vaccinator needs to counsel pregnant women on the precautions and availability of the COVID-19 vaccine doses. The face sheet has presented a questions-answers module for the frontline workers and vaccinators for counselling the pregnant women and it asserts that over 95 per cent of COVID-19 positive mothers have been in good health at the time of giving birth. 

On the front of why should pregnant women receive the vaccine, the health ministry has expressed concern that the viral infection may affect the fetus too. The statement from the Health Ministry has come in the albeit of data that more than 90 per cent of infected pregnant women recover from the pandemic without getting hospitalized. Though every case is not susceptible, women must guard them as well as the fetus and it is advised that they should receive the COVID-19 vaccine. 

How to register? To receive the vaccine doses, all pregnant women must register themselves on the CoWIN portal or they can register a slot for the vaccination by visiting the nearby COVID-19 vaccination centre. The health ministry has asserted that the pregnancy won't increase the risk of COVID-19 infection. However, it didn't fit all the cases as if pregnant women have comorbidities including high blood pressure and obesity, they would be vulnerable to severe illness due to the pandemic. 

The illness would push them for hospitalization which will further affect the fetus. If a pregnant woman can get the receive the vaccine being under the treatment for the pandemic? The health ministry underlines that if a woman has contracted the pandemic during her current pregnancy, she should be vaccinated soon after the delivery. On the front of side-effects that pregnant women may face after receiving the vaccine doses, the face sheet has stated that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and protect pregnant women against the COVID-19 illness. 

A vaccine may have side effects, like any medicine, which would have minor adverse effects like mild fever, feeling discomfort for two to three days, and pain at the injection site. The fact sheet said that pregnant women may very rarely experience some symptoms within twenty days after getting the COVID-19 vaccination which may require immediate attention.  

The fact sheet further highlighted that in some cases, the COVID-19 infections in pregnancy may increase the possibilities of premature delivery and the infant's weight might be less than 2.5 kg and the baby might die before birth in rare situations. To guard from such complications, the experts say that pregnant women can and must receive the COVID-19 vaccine doses. The experts further say pregnant women should be given priority at Covid vaccination sites. 

They note that the lead vaccines in India -Covaxin and Covishield do not contain any live virus and there is no biological indicator in the vaccines to cause COVID-19 infection in the mother and fetus and there would be no transmission during pregnancy or through breast milk. Overall, 'prevention is better than cure' applies for pregnant women and everyone and she and her family members should adhere to the COVID-19 guidelines like wearing a double mask, observing physical distancing, and practising frequent hand hygiene.