Business Wire IndiaDiwas, an organisation focused on improving women’s health, in collaboration with ETI (Empower |Transform |Inspire)- an organisation working to support the most vulnerable, organized a panel discussion on Impact of COVID-19 on Pregnancy and Status of Vaccination in India. Conducted online, the discussion brought together a gathering of public health experts, obstetricians & gynaecologists, journalists and change-makers.
The panelists include Dr Nozer Sheriar, Gynaecologist, Breach Candy Hospital Trust; Dr Virander Singh Chauhan, Arturo Falaschi Emeritus Scientist and Founder, ETI; Dr Hema Divakar, Former President, FOGSI; Ms Sruthi Harihara Subramanian, Film Director & National Award Winner, Dr Indira Behara, Public Health Specialist; Ms Priyali Sur, Independent Journalist & Founder, Azadi Project, and Ms Ramya Kannan, Chief of Bureau, The Hindu. Dr Usha Sriram, Founder, Diwas and Dr Sukriti Chauhan, CEO, ETI moderated the panel.
Preliminary evidence from multiple studies suggests that pregnant women are at increased risk for severe illness from Covid 19 and pregnant women with severe illness are 62% more likely to need support in intensive care units than other non-pregnant women. They are also 20 times more likely to die than their non-pregnant counterparts.
While there is sporadic evidence of adverse impacts on the foetus, UNICEF data predicts that more than 200,000 additional stillbirths could occur in 117 low- and middle-income countries due to severe COVID-related disruptions in health care services. This raises the need to question whether women should be included in the vaccination efforts. Keeping this in mind, recent advisories and discussions focus on the possibility to expand vaccination to pregnant women.
Dr Usha Sriram welcomed the panelists and said that “Girls and women have borne the brunt of the social, economic and mental health consequences of Covid 19. Their unique life cycle poses a great many challenges. Pregnant women, recently delivered moms, women planning a pregnancy are all experiencing fear, anxiety and uncertainty. Their voices and stories need to be heard and we need to hear from experts who are entrusted with the tough task of weighing the evidence and providing safe and pragmatic solutions.”
During the discussion, Dr Nozer Sheriar stated “The recommendations that emerge for pregnant and lactating women must be nuanced. I would wait for more evidence to emerge before recommending vaccination to pregnant women, but at the same time we must question why vaccines are being provided in other countries, and not in India as pregnant women continue to be compromised. We need to fast-track scientific evidence, bring in vaccines and create specialized vaccine centers.”
Addressing the impact of COVID-19 in India, Dr Virander Chauhan said, “The virus being as new as it is, we are still learning about it. What we saw yesterday, day before will change, as this is very much still an evolving situation. Our responsibility is to make sure it does not multiply. Hence the need to mask, social distance and focus on vaccination.”
Dr Hema Divakar talked about the healthcare system stating “The entire healthcare system, women and young girls have been under a lot of pressure in terms of acceptability and affordability and COVID has just highlighted this impact further. The policymakers should pay attention to the micro details of the implementation. As medical professionals, we have not also faced such uncertainty. So, telling patients what they need to do in a reassuring manner has impacted us too.”
Ms Priyali Sur, who has started a petition with change.org. titled Open Vaccination for Pregnant Women in India that has more than 40000 signatures spoke about her personal experience stating, “There are so many women out there who want to feel secure. We as women know what is right for us. If you feel unsafe, please ask for the vaccine, sign the petition. We have a right to choose what we want and what we don’t. It is shocking that we as pregnant mothers have not been considered in his vaccination policy and have been excluded- knowing we are susceptible to mortality and COVID 19. My appeal to the government, including ICMR and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is to open it up to us. Let the women decide what they want to do.”
Ms Ramya Kannan talked about her experience as a journalist in the vaccine-roll out process in India. She stated “There has been a lot of good information coming from television and newspapers to equip citizens. Journalists just like doctors and researchers place a lot of faith in evidence and data. COVID is an evolving condition and we still do not have water tight protocols. As long as we communicate the facts, referring to evidence, we should be able to counter myths and distortion of facts.”
Dr Indira Behara, public health expert and an expectant mother shared that “It is well known that vaccines work and they save lives. I as a pregnant woman would have liked to have an option to vaccinate myself before getting COVID along with my family, including my 2-year-old daughter. Clarity on information is key and I would like to see an accelerated roll out of the other vaccine candidates being available in India as well. We should try our best to get the best level of care to a relatively sizable population of pregnant women at high risk. I also believe it would be of great help for all practitioners to be a little more coordinated about treatment and management they can offer to their pregnant patients.”
Ms Shruthi Harihara Subramanian talked about the impact of reduced support systems for working mothers during the pandemic. She shared her journey stating “I had to be isolated from my daughter who is 20 months old. It makes you wonder what your children are growing up learning and how long you can really ignore your baby crying. I think this is an opportunity for us to set boundaries and be empathetic within workplaces. Mental health is as important as physical health and it is time, we start addressing both issues.”