‘Covid-19 vaccines safe for pregnant women’ Dr Mahomva

Rumbidzayi Zinyuke and Precious Manomano

Covid-19 vaccines being administered in Zimbabwe are now known to be safe for everyone above the age of 17, including pregnant and breastfeeding women following the latest World Health Organisation guidelines.

Although demand for the vaccines has been increasing, very few pregnant and breastfeeding women have been taking the jabs, fearing the drug could have adverse effects on their children.

But national chief coordinator of the Covid-19 response team Dr Agnes Mahomva said the World Health Organisation recently released guidelines certifying the vaccines safe for use. 

“The inactivated vaccines we are using are very safe. The WHO guidelines recently issued have shown that the vaccines we are using are safe,” she said.

Zimbabwe approved the use of four vaccines namely the Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines from China, Covaxin from India and Sputnik V from Russia.

All the four are inactivated vaccines made from dead viral particles to expose the body’s immune system to the virus without risking a serious disease response. The use of dead viruses makes it safe to be injected in the body and this prepares the body to produce antibodies that will fight the live virus once it attacks.

Said Dr Mahomva: “Our local scientists have acknowledged that not many pregnant women have been coming forth but the vaccines are safe for use and they should get vaccinated.” 

Pregnant women have not been spared by the current surge in the Covid-19 positive cases, highlighting the need for them to be vaccinated. On Wednesday, 12 pregnant women tested positive for Covid-19 at the United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH)’s Lady Rodwell Maternity Unit.

UBH acting chief executive officer Dr Narcisious Dzvanga confirmed that after a massive testing, the number of expecting mothers who had tested positive was almost equal to those that tested negative.

WHO maternal and perinatal health expert Dr Özge Tunçalp this week said although being pregnant was not an additional risk for getting Covid-19, pregnant women were at higher risk of getting severe Covid-19 symptoms and at higher risk of delivering a baby prematurely.

“And in terms of risks for the baby, mother to baby transmission in utero or during birth is very rare and no active virus has been identified in breast milk. 

“So, this is important to keep continuing with breastfeeding. And as far as we know, babies born to women who have had or currently have Covid do well and in general don’t present with symptoms. In case newborns are infected, most of the time they present with symptoms that are not very severe,” she said.

Meanwhile, gynaecologist Dr Thulani Magwali strongly warned pregnant women from seeking help outside health institutions.

“We don’t encourage women who are pregnant to stay at home and deliver at home. It leads to maternal deaths. There are many problems that can occur during pregnancy, for instance, the baby can die inside the womb or the mother can develop serious complications”, he said.

Dr Magwali said pregnant women needed monitoring even during labour so that maternal deaths are averted.

“Such cases should be avoided and I urge expecting mothers to register their pregnancies on time so that complications are dealt with accordingly. 

“We are saying no to maternal deaths and expecting women should register early and go for antenatal care. 

Apostolic sects have also been urged to seek formal health system to reduce chances of maternal deaths, with Union for the Development of Apostolic Churches secretary general Reverend Edson Tsvakayi expressing concern over the rising cases of deaths of women who deliver at home with the help of unskilled personnel.

Recently, a self-styled prophetess from Johanne Masowe eChishanu apostolic sect who operated a birth camp at her house in the Manhenga area, Mashonaland Central, was summoned to Chief Masembura’s court after failing to help a mother, Modesta Manhenzva (44), deliver twins resulting in her death. 

Nyarai Chibati, also known as Madzimai Jennifer, operates the birth camp approximately 100 metres from Manhenga Clinic.

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