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COVID vaccine urged during pregnancy

While misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines abounds, physicians are trying to set the record straight. The Delta variant is resulting in a pandemic within a pandemic, of sorts, with unvaccinated pregnant women at its core. Those women are getting sicker and at a faster pace than in the past, according to Kacey Eichelberger, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of OBGYN, Prisma Health in the Upstate and University of South Carolina School of Medicine, Greenville.

Eichelberger joined with Berry Campbell, Professor and Chair, Department of OBGYN, Prisma Health in the Midlands and University of South Carolina School of Medicine, Columbia, to spread the urgent word that those who are not yet vaccinated should do so now. Samy Iskandar, Medical Director for Women’s Health at Bon Secours St. Francis in Greenville, is reaching out to the community as well. 

Iskandar said he and other obstetricians are governed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which recommends that all those who are pregnant be vaccinated against COVID-19. 

“They’ve looked at all the data, all the numbers,” Iskandar said. “All these things people are saying on social media are not true.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends vaccination for all those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or thinking about becoming pregnant, and it has released data showing that COVID vaccines are safe. 

Iskandar said it is vitally important for pregnant women to be vaccinated.

“Unfortunately, pregnancy is an immune-compromised state and there is a significantly increased risk if a pregnant lady gets COVID – some studies show five times more likely to end up in ICU and/or on a ventilator,” he said. 

Eichelberger said the volumes of sick, pregnant patients are at levels not seen before in the pandemic, with more having to deliver their babies in the ICU. She noted that unequivocally, COVID vaccination is safe for pregnant women. 

“Hard stop,” she said.

Vaccines during pregnancy aren’t new. Women already routinely receive vaccinations for flu and tDap, which protects against serious diseases, including whooping cough. Iskandar said that as of July, more than 136,000 pregnancies have been followed post-vaccination for COVID. They show no increased risk of birth defects, miscarriage or preterm labor, as well as no increase in other conditions such as diabetes. There is also no evidence that the vaccines cause infertility, which is a common concern.

But that’s not what people are hearing on social media, where they are bombarded with information, Iskandar said.

“Please go to a healthcare professional,” he said. “Please talk to your doctor. Talk to them about the risks and the benefits. Get the real scientific data from your doctor.”

Eichelberger said the first option for pregnant women right now is to get vaccinated – at any point in pregnancy.

“The time is sooner rather than later,” she said. 

The other choice for those who are pregnant and unvaccinated is “cocooning,” which Eichelberger described as social distancing in an extreme way, isolating at home and assuming that everyone you encounter can infect you. 

Iskandar’s message is clear: “You just get sicker and have a higher chance of dying if you get COVID when you are pregnant.”

Despite claims that vaccines are not working against the Delta variant, the data shows otherwise. While a small percentage of vaccinated people will still get sick, their outcomes are likely to be much better than those who are unvaccinated, Iskandar said.

“With the Delta variant, there are people that are vaccinated that are getting COVID, but it is more of a flu-like issue and not getting so sick that you are required to be in the hospital or in the ICU or possibly intubated on a ventilator,” he said. 

Eichelberger said there is no judgment for those who have not yet gotten vaccinated, only the sincere desire to see women and babies be safe. 

“It is heartbreaking to see what is happening in our state,” she said. 

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