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PAHO: ‘Pregnant and lactating women priority for COVID-19 vaccinations’

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Posted: Sunday, September 12, 2021. 5:43 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa F. Etienne urged countries to prioritize expectant and lactating mothers for vaccinations due to the “serious risk” they face.

“We know that if pregnant women get sick, they have a higher risk of developing serious COVID symptoms, and more frequently require ventilation and intensive care, when compared to women who aren’t pregnant,” she said during her weekly press briefing. “They also have a higher chance of delivering their baby early or pre-maturely.”

PAHO guidelines are that all pregnant women past their first trimester as well as those who have delivered and are breastfeeding are eligible for vaccinations.

More than 270,000 pregnant women have become sick with COVID in the Americas so far, and more than 2,600 have died from the virus. The problem is particularly acute in Mexico and Colombia, where COVID-19 has become the leading cause of maternal deaths in 2021.

At the same time, Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil account for half of all COVID deaths among pregnant women in the region.

“For the past three decades, Latin America and the Caribbean struggled to reduce maternal mortality,” Dr. Etienne said. “Now the pandemic threatens to wipe away 20 years of hard-fought gains.”

The pandemic also threatens health care for pregnant women. At least 40 percent of countries in the region have reported disruptions to maternal and newborn care amid the pandemic.

“These disruptions have become more widespread during this second year of the pandemic,” Dr. Etienne said. Some countries, including Belize and Guatemala, report that pregnancy-related care has been disrupted in over half of health sites.

In addition to prioritizing pregnant and lactating women for COVID-19 vaccines, the Director also urged countries to ensure their access to health services.

“And finally, it is critical that pregnant women maintain the public health measures proven effective against this virus,” she said, recommending that they wear masks, keep social distance, limit contact with people outside of their households and avoid indoor gatherings.

“PAHO is helping to channel donations from countries with excess doses, but we need more vaccines to save lives in the hardest-hit corners of Latin America and the Caribbean,” Dr. Etienne said.

She added PAHO is working to expand vaccine access by using its Revolving Fund to procure doses for member states and through a longer-term initiative to produce mRNA vaccines in the region. “These actions, combined with increased global supplies of vaccines that are expected later this year and in 2022, will help us reduce inequalities.”

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