LEWISTON – Dr. Rebecca Brakeley was planning her third child when COVID-19 vaccines became available to frontline healthcare workers in December 2020.
“Obviously, as a (woman of) childbearing age, you don’t want to put anything in your body that could compromise your fertility or your health,” said Brakeley, a hospital pediatrician at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston Tuesday. .
So she looked at the facts.
“And luckily there was a lot of great information, especially as we went along, that shows these are safe vaccines. She has completed the two-shot series of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Ten months later, Brakeley, who is six months pregnant, received her booster.
At the end of last month, the United States Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recommended a booster dose – a third injection of Pfizer vaccine at least six months after the initial series of inoculations – for those most at risk. exposure or serious illness.
The US CDC added pregnancy to its list of conditions that put individuals at increased risk for serious illness from COVID in May.
“Because you don’t want to attack your own fetus in your body, women’s immune systems are weakened during pregnancy. And we are finding that pregnant women, just like with the flu, are also at higher risk of getting serious illness with COVID-19, ”Brakeley said.
Being both a healthcare worker and pregnant, Brakeley was “double eligible”, in her own words.
“To protect myself and my fetus, and to promote the production of antibodies for my breast milk, I chose to receive my third injection – which is a booster injection – last week, when it was available for the first. times for me, ”she said.
But the fact that Brakeley received her first round of vaccines and is now pregnant makes her somewhat rare.
Nationally, only 33% of people pregnant between December 14, 2020 and October 2, 2021 were fully vaccinated before or during their pregnancy, according to the US CDC’s COVID data tracker. Maine-specific data on immunizations in pregnant women are not available.
In an “urgent” advisory at the end of last month, the US CDC said it “strongly recommends vaccination against COVID-19 before or during pregnancy, because the benefits of vaccination for pregnant people and their fetuses or infant outweigh any known or potential risks ”of the vaccine.
As of October 4, there had been 127,193 cases of COVID among pregnant women in the United States since the end of January 2020, and 171 deaths. About 13% – 22 deaths – occurred in August of this year, the record for a month. The CDC has no data on the difference in hospitalization and death rates between vaccinated and unvaccinated pregnant women.
As of September 16, of the 8,249 births registered in Maine this year, 391 indicate suspected or confirmed COVID during pregnancy in birth registers, according to data provided by the Maine CDC. There has been only one maternal death, which is a death during or within a year of pregnancy, where COVID has been listed as an underlying cause. There have been no deaths from COVID in fetuses or newborns.
The US CDC said in its advisory that COVID in symptomatic pregnant women carries twice the risk of ICU admission and increases the risk of death by 70% compared to non-pregnant women.
“We have seen an increase in serious illness in mothers, but also a risk to the fetus of preterm delivery, unfortunately, stillbirth or complications after childbirth,” said Brakeley.
“And so, knowing that and knowing that – now that we have quite a bit of data, an abundance of data, really, to show that the vaccine is safe for pregnant women – we urge people to get vaccinated to prevent ( these) much higher risks of complications in mother and fetus.
It is common for pregnant women not to be included in clinical trials, Brakeley said, but a number of completed and ongoing studies conducted in the United States and abroad show that vaccines are safe and effective for pregnant women and the fetus.
“There is now extensive experience with pregnant women receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and not experiencing any side effects,” Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah said at a press conference on Wednesday.
“There is no suggestion that the vaccine is harmful to them or the baby,” he said.
On the flip side, “pregnant women, when they receive COVID, perform worse than their non-pregnant counterparts,” Shah said.
The other incentive that pregnant or breastfeeding women have to get vaccinated is that some of this vaccine-induced immunity is passed to the baby, either in utero or through breast milk.
“So it’s like the second level of protection. This reduces the risks during pregnancy but also for the baby in the future, ”said Brakeley.
The “degree of protection” in newborns may decrease, however, which is why Shah said this was “one more reason why it is important for those who are with the baby – mom, parents, grandchildren. parents – for everyone around the baby to be vaccinated, to create as much of a protective bubble as possible.
Although data from the US CDC shows that by 2020 the majority of women with a confirmed case of COVID-19 have carried their pregnancies to term and without COVID-related complications, this data is only valid until December 2020, which means that they do not indicate if and how the delta variant affects pregnant women.
Studies have shown that the delta variant is more contagious and deadly than the original strain of the virus. It began to spread rapidly in the United States and Maine over the summer and is now the predominant strain.
It is not clear whether the high number of COVID deaths among pregnant women in August – the record one month since the start of the pandemic – is linked to the delta variant.