The second COVID-19 wave impacted pregnant women more significantly as compared to the first wave.
A study by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) showed a steep increase at 28.7 percent in symptomatic cases among pregnant women in the second wave compared to 14.2 percent in the last year. It also revealed that the case fatality rate among pregnant and postpartum women was 5.7 percent during the second wave, a significantly higher number as compared to 0.7 percent in the first wave.
Owing to this, the Central government recently released guidelines to include pregnant and lactating women in the vaccination drive, much later than other countries that had started vaccinating pregnant women in the 1st quarter of this year.
"There was a steep spike in the number of infections in pregnant women during mid-April to mid-May, 2021. Social distancing norms also did not help in decreasing the caseload," said Dr S Shantha Kumari, President of the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI). Speaking to CNBC-TV18, she added that during pregnancy, women are already in a vulnerable state and hence more susceptible to medium and severe infections which have led to several other complications.
“The second wave was more severe with a steep rise in mortality rates among pregnant women. Pregnant women required urgent hospitalisation, intensive care and even oxygen support in many cases. We also saw a spike in newborn deaths. But the biggest concern was the rise in premature deliveries that needed extra care," said Dr Rishma Dhillon Pai, Consultant Gynaecologist at the Lilavati, Jaslok & Hinduja Health Care Hospitals in Mumbai.
Long-term complications related to COVID in mothers and newborns are still unknown, however, Dr S Shanta Kumari stated that the risk of blood clotting is more profound in COVID infected pregnant women vis-a-vis non-COVID pregnant women. However, pregnant women becoming COVID positive has resulted in many newborns having antibodies that act as protection for them, she added.
But COVID complications have not been the only challenge in treating pregnant women. Another key challenge was addressing the issue of regular check-ups that are needed during pregnancy to ensure that the baby and mother are safe. “Before COVID-19 we would advise patients to come for at least 10 checkups but now FOGSI and other international organisations have provided a good set of guidelines that have reduced hospital visits to just 4-5. Patients have been advised to conduct checks for blood pressure, oxygen levels etc at home. We are using digital mediums to conduct consultations online. Telemedicine has proven to be a big advantage during COVID,” said Dr Rishma Dhillon Pai.
The only way to provide some protection to pregnant women is vaccination. FOGSI had recommended in the last week of April 2021 that pregnant women should be counted in the vulnerable category of the population and must be vaccinated at the earliest. According to FOGSI, the complications related to COVID are far greater than the vaccine side effects.
According to the current data, the two vaccines which are available in India are not known to create any further complications. "There are no comprehensive studies showing that pregnant women cannot be vaccinated. Currently, both Covishield and Covaxin are considered to be safe for pregnant & lactating women", Dr S Shantha Kumari added.
(Edited by : Aditi Gautam)
First Published: IST