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UPMC Reaffirms Importance Of Vaccines For Pregnant Women

UPMC Chautauqua P-J photo by Eric Tichy

UPMC Chautauqua is reaffirming the importance of COVID-19 vaccines for those who are pregnant.

Dr. Andrea Walsh, MD OB-GYN, spoke with The Post-Journal regarding the vaccine, explaining that the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology “strongly recommend vaccination in pregnancy, in general, whether it is during pregnancy or post-pregnancy or even pre-pregnancy.”

“It is recommended in all those populations,” she said. “It has been found that there is a twofold increased risk of requiring ICU admission and even higher risk if you have comorbidities like obesity or diabetes — if you are vaccinated, then you reduce your risk significantly of being severely ill during your pregnancy.”

Walsh said the area has been “quite sheltered” from COVID-19 cases in those who are pregnant, but noted that the number of cases in the area overall has been increasing since the summer. She said this puts the pregnant population at greater risk as well.

As it stands across the nation, only 31% of pregnant women are vaccinated, Walsh said.

She said the hospital has been discussing the matter with its patients, asking if they have had COVID-19 or if they have been vaccinated. Walsh said if they have not been vaccinated, they have a process in which they inform the patients about the vaccinations and its benefits.

The hospital has also held several clinics where vaccination were offered to women and pregnant women and obstetricians were available to speak to and answer questions for the patients.

“In addition, we have hosted several town hall meetings within our institution to provide a platform for people to ask questions and address the things that they’re the most concerned about,” she said, adding that there can be a reluctance in those who are pregnant to get vaccinated. “I think there’s just a general fear about taking anything in pregnancy — I’ve had pregnant women who were afraid of taking Tylenol during their pregnancy, so I understand that concern — they don’t want to consume anything that may cause any issues with the pregnancy. But, with any sort of medication or vaccines, we always have to assess the risks versus benefits. When we look at the risk of COVID during the pregnancy, that is much higher than the risk of getting a vaccine during pregnancy.”

She said there are no reported side effects outside of the side effects that occur in non-pregnant patients.

“I think it’s important for patients to understand that when they are pregnant, they are at a significantly higher risk of getting severely ill and actually have a 70% increased risk of death during pregnancy (if they have COVID),” she said. “Right now, I think it’s actually by the end of September, there are 161 pregnant women who have died from COVID, and I would say the majority of those have been with the Delta variants.”

Walsh pointed out that in general, people who have had COVID should also be vaccinated.

“There isn’t any difference in those recommendations with pregnant women,” she said. “There are no recommendations to be rested for antibody levels prior to getting a vaccine … because the studies have shown that the rate of antibodies after having the virus has not been sustained for a very long time — so the amount of protection has decreased significantly, even within three months.”

Walsh said this decrease can happen with viruses. While some viruses cause people to be immune for life, others do not, such as the flu.

“That is why we need to have a yearly vaccine,” she said.

Walsh said a frequently asked question is “What happens to the baby?” She said that if the mother is in distress, the baby is then in distress as well.

“When mom is very sick, baby is not going to get everything it needs,” she said. “Specifically, when we look at COVID, it is very tough on the respiratory system and often patients have low oxygen levels. That low oxygen level also goes into the placenta, so, therefore, the baby is getting less oxygen than it should. All of these things can impact the baby.”

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