After much debate, the Union Health Ministry on Friday (July 2) approved the vaccination of pregnant women against COVID-19. They can now register at CoWin app like any other citizen or walk into a vaccination centre.
The government nod comes as a big relief for more than 2.5 crore mothers who give birth in the country every year and are at a higher risk of infection due to COVID.
The decision, taken on the advice of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI), empowers pregnant women to make an informed choice on taking the protective shot.
All states and union territories (UTs) have been told to implement the decision under the ongoing National COVID Vaccination Program. Till date, all groups except pregnant women were eligible for COVID-19 vaccination. Now, it is expanded to even pregnant women.
While experts have debated the merits and demerits of vaccination for expectant mothers, studies have shown that the coronavirus may result in rapid deterioration of health of pregnant women and might affect fetus too. The matter has been examined by domain knowledge experts based on the evidence that indicate that pregnant women are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 compared to non-pregnant women in case they get infected.
Further, pregnant women with COVID-19 infection are at an increased risk for preterm birth and other adverse pregnancy outcomes including higher chances of neonatal morbidity. Additionally, the experts have also highlighted pre-existing co-morbidities, advanced maternal age, and high body mass Index as factors for severe COVID-19 in pregnancy.
The National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC) has seconded the recommendations of NTAGI on vaccinating pregnant women.
So far, lactating women have been considered eligible for vaccination, but not pregnant women. The government contended that it did not have sufficient safety and efficacy data because clinical trials for vaccines did not include pregnant women as participants.
But after a recent meeting of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI), it was recommended that pregnant women should also be vaccinated since “exposure probability is very high” and the “benefit far outweighs the risk”, said media reports.
ICMR chief Dr Balram Bhargava had earlier said, “Vaccination is useful for them and should be given.”
India is the 18th country in the world to recommend COVID-19 vaccines to pregnant women. A COVID Maternal Immunization tracker (COMIT) showed that 28 other countries “permit” COVID vaccines in pregnancy, another 46 either “permit with restrictions or deny with some exceptions”.