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Journalist Petitions Delhi HC For Vaccination Of Pregnant Women Against COVID-19 On Priority; What Is Govt’s Stand?

New Delhi: It has been nearly five months since India began its vaccination drive against COVID-19. But the Indian Government has still not allowed vaccination for pregnant women. Priyali Sur, a Delhi-based journalist, has petitioned the Delhi High court for vaccination of pregnant women against COVID-19 on priority.

Priyali contracted COVID during her second trimester of pregnancy and had high fever.

Pregnant women were not included in the original clinical trials to test COVID-19 tests for safety. But there is no evidence of any harm associated with the vaccine during pregnancy. Experts believe that vaccines, given their basic mechanism are, are not risky for pregnant women.

Data from pregnant women who have already been vaccinated around the world show that vaccines are safe. Some research shows that vaccination during pregnancy can also protect the baby.

Last week too, a pregnant woman moved a plea in the Delhi High Court seeking direction to the Centre to include pregnant women in COVID vaccination drive on priority.  The High Court was informed by the Centre’s counsel that the government is seized of the issue and will take a decision on the same.

Noting the statement made by the Centre’s counsel, Justice Amit Bansal said no further orders are required and disposed of the petition. Advocate Vasudha Zutshi, representing the petitioner, said the petitioner is in an advanced stage of pregnancy and desires to get vaccinated on priority. She sought direction to the government to issue a fresh notification to include pregnant women in the vaccination drive on priority basis, The New Indian Express reported.

What the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI) says:

In a notification issued on May 28, it had made various recommendations including that all pregnant women visiting antenatal care may be informed about the risks and benefits associated wi th the COVID-19 vaccines available in the country.

Based on the information provided a pregnant woman may be offered the available COVID-19 vaccine at the nearest centre and the vaccine can be given anytime during the pregnancy,adding that all lactating women are eligible to receive Covid-19 vaccines any time after delivery.

What doctors say

Earlier this month, BBC reported that hundreds of pregnant women have reportedly died of the virus in India but there is no official data. The situation is likely far worse in rural areas, where poor surveillance, delayed testing and spotty access to critical care has led to a high death toll from the virus.

On the question, if vaccination could have saved them, Dr Meenakshi Ahuja, Director of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Delhi’s Fortis La Femme Hospital, told BBC, “In my opinion, the vaccines were developed quickly for the right reasons – but it usually takes 10 years before most vaccines are declared safe for pregnant women. The government is trying to play safe. But there is no decision yet and millions of pregnant women are very vulnerable. We hope to get a positive response from the government soon.”

India’s federation of gynaecologists too has recommended that pregnant women be allowed to consult with their doctors and decide.

 

“Immunity is generally compromised during pregnancy but Covid positive pregnant women are especially vulnerable in the third trimester. The growing uterus pushes against the diaphragm, compressing the lungs and making it harder to breathe in a normal amount of air. So the first thing we try to do is to deliver the baby even if it’s premature. That is one reason why we have seen a rise in neonatal deaths,” Dr Ahuja was quoted as saying.

Ruma Satwik, an obstetrician at Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital told BBC that she is still unsure of recommending the vaccine to her patients in the absence of any clear data or studies. She pointed to the fact that Covishield and Covaxin, the two jabs that India is currently administering, have not been tested on pregnant women.

Last month, Brazil suspended Covishield for pregnant women after a woman who had taken the shot died. Some countries have also stopped giving it amid increasing reportd that it was kinked to blood clots. “This is also a fear among gynaecologists because pregnant women are at higher risk of developing blood clots,” Dr Ahuja added.

With only a handful of hospitals, that too in the big cities admitting pregnant women who are COVID positive and in the absence of no clear strategy for treating pregnant women, it remains to be seen what will be the reposne to Priyali’s petition.

Meanwhile, the countries that are vaccinating pregnant women are the US, UK, European Union, and Australia. Thety are giving the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, both of which have been deemed safe by a major new retrsospective study,” BBC reported.