New Delhi: The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) announced on July 2 that women who are pregnant or lactating can now take the vaccine against COVID-19. The Union Health Ministry said that it has made the decision based on the recommendations of the expert panel National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI). As it expands the eligibility criteria to help protect expecting mothers and their unborn babies from the disease, there have been many myths floating around on social media, as a result, India is seeing vaccine hesitancy in that group.
According to the vaccination data available with the union health ministry, around 19.59 crore women and 22.45 crore men have received covid-19 vaccines so far.
Amid the scare for COVID-19 vaccination and confusion in its rollout among women, pregnant or lactating mothers, Banega Swasth India team speaks to Dr Suneela Garg, Member, Lancet Commission Covid India Task Force; Director, Professor HAG Community Medicine, Maulana Azad Medical College. Dr Suneela Garg decodes all the myths related to the COVID-19 vaccine among women and why it is necessary for everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Here’s what she said:
Question: Why do we see women lagging behind when it comes to COVID-19 vaccination?
Dr Suneela Garg: Empowerment of women has never been a priority in our country. According to National Family Health Survey 5 data, which was released in December last year, it was seen, 60 per cent of women had never used data in different states. Whereas only 20 per cent of women are having smartphones, so that is the extent of empowerment. Even for getting a COVID-19 vaccination, women are dependent on the men of the house or other people, someone who can take them to the vaccination centre and get themselves vaccinated. That’s the reason number one that they are lagging in the COVID-19 vaccination drive as they have never been empowered, they depend on others for their work. The change is happening, but it will take time.
Question: Are COVID-19 vaccination myths the cause of vaccine hesitancy in women?
Dr Suneela Garg: Women’s health has never been a priority, this has been the case in reproduction choices also and now the same is being seen in COVID-19 vaccination. They are not given the choice, families advise women to maybe give birth to the child first or complete their menstrual cycle and then go for vaccination.
Question: Can vaccine antibodies be passed from mother to child if the lady is lactating and gets vaccinated?
Dr Suneela Garg: Definitely. If the woman is lactating, then the child is anyways getting the antibodies to fight any sort of infections. Mother’s milk is the best and it is complete nutrition and if the child is also getting the vaccine antibodies through it, then it is an ideal situation. Those women who have not taken vaccine during their antennal period, must take it after delivery and must follow all the precautions. Because it is seen that the antibodies can be passed from mothers’ milk and if vaccination is done then vaccine antibodies will also be passed to the child and protect the baby from COVID-19.
Question: Should lactating women stop breastfeeding for few days after getting vaccinated?
Dr Suneela Garg: Not at all, breastfeeding is very important for newborns. Breast milk is like a wholesome meal for the newborn. It is important that lactating mothers should get vaccinated but should not stop breastfeeding at any cause. Vaccines are safe it will only help protect the mother and the newborn from the ill effects of the virus.
Also Read: Opinion: Why Women Eat Last And Least?
Question: COVID-19 vaccine and women’s menstrual cycle – what’s the relation?
Dr Suneela Garg: COVID-19 vaccine and menstruation have no relation. If someones’ period comes early or late after taking the vaccine then that is a normal phenomenon, something related to their natural cycle, it is not because of vaccine. This is a very big myth, the vaccine doesn’t affect any hormone in the body, so we need to overcome this myth.
Question: Which type of COVID vaccine is safest for pregnant and lactating women?
Dr Suneela Garg: All vaccines are safe, when available, everyone should take it as soon as possible. In India, we have got three vaccines for now and all have the same efficacy and do one job – protect you from COVID-19. The harm of not taking the vaccine is much more than getting any vaccine as one can suffer from severe side effects of COVID-19, if they have not taken their jab.
Question: Is it a myth or fact – COVID-19 vaccine causes blood clotting & infertility?
Dr Suneela Garg: COVID19 vaccine doesn’t cause blood clotting or gives anyone infertility – these are just baseless myths. COVID-19 vaccines are safe, anyone can take the vaccine. It also doesn’t suppress your immune system and makes you feel weak. People should understand that if they are not taking the vaccine, then they are at much higher risk of catching the virus or developing severe complications. COVID-19 complications are so many – from headache to cardiovascular, even neurological – the aftereffects can infect any part of your body.
Question: Do we have any registered clinical trials where COVID-19 vaccines have been tried on pregnant or lactating women?
Dr Suneela Garg: What figures we were taking, for now, is from USA where they had vaccinated a huge number of people against COVID-19 and in those people, there were some pregnant and lactating women. So, when we review that literature, it was seen that taking COVID vaccine is much more beneficial for pregnant women as if they catch the virus during their pregnancy then the chances of that pregnancy turning critical are high – it may turn into abortion or baby may be born low weight, so weighing the risk vs benefits ratio, it was recommended that even pregnant women should take a vaccine against the virus.
Dr Suneela Garg’s Recommendation: Women should just take the vaccine without any second thoughts. In India, we are seeing, slowly the gap between men and women, when it comes to COVID-19 vaccination is increasing. We must fix at this point otherwise it will be a problem for the entire country. Men need to come out and get their wives, sisters, and mothers vaccinated. The key is COVID-19 vaccination. Women are the backbone of society, the health of women is very closely related to the health of the family, so, we need to focus on women as much as possible and we need to get them vaccinated.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.