Earlier today it was announced that the FDA gave full and final approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, “which will now be marketed as Comirnaty, for the prevention of COVID-19 disease in individuals 16 years of age and older,” according to the FDA’s press release today.
It’s long-awaited news, and it comes right after a plea by obstetricians from across the state for women to get the COVID vaccine before, during or after pregnancy.
As of last week Prisma Health had administered 420,000 COVID vaccines, but after seeing an alarming increase in COVID illness in very young children and babies and now severe illness and even deaths in unvaccinated pregnant women, obstetricians and pediatricians are encouraging pregnant women and those considering pregnancy to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“I hear stories every day from young women saying they are concerned about getting the vaccine for their unborn fetus, but it provides more safety to their child, as well as the patients, to get the vaccine during pregnancy,” said Dr. Berry A. Campbell, the Department Chair for OB/GYN in the Midlands. “It’s important to know that there’s a significant increased risk of pregnancy-related complications, particularly pre-term births.”
Campbell said a joint statement was released last week by health officials from across the state stressing the safety of the COVID vaccine and the need for the vaccine in pregnant and postpartum mothers.
Dr. Kacey Eichelberger, chair of Prisma OB/GYN in the Upstate, said there is a troubling spike in serious illness and even deaths among unvaccinated pregnant women.
“The COVID vaccine is known to be a safe dosage for those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or those considering pregnancy, because we now have the data of healthy babies whose moms were vaccinated before and during their pregnancies,” Eichelberger said. “But it is heartbreaking to see what is happening in our state. We are delivering babies almost every day in the ICU right now, so if you are pregnant, the best time to get the vaccine is sooner rather than later.”
The physicians said there have been many women who have had to be delivered while they are hooked up to ventilators, which is a stressful alternative to the happy deliveries families dream about.
“It may be related to the variance but we are seeing the largest spike consistently across the state happening right now in unvaccinated women,” Eichelberger said. “If there is anything that I could personally do to convince anyone to get a vaccine or to cocoon at home, I am ready.”
Women’s immune systems are weaker during pregnancy to allow for the development of the baby, and Eichelberger said there are many more young women impacted this summer than last year. For those who still are uncomfortable getting the vaccine for whatever reason, however, Eichelberger and the OB/GYN community are now recommending that the pregnant women wear masks and stay home as much as possible.
“All those providers want the same thing and that is optimal health for you and your baby. We will deliver 8,000 babies in the Upstate alone this year,” Eichelberger said. “From a women’s health perspective we are seeing volumes that we have not seen in the past 17 months.”
Campbell said when a pregnant mother is vaccinated, the vaccine itself does not penetrate the placenta, but as the antibodies gradually build inside the mother’s blood stream, those antibodies are eventually passed on to the baby. Even breast feeding provides some antibodies to a lesser degree.