Mrs Vivianne Ihekweazu, the Managing Director of Nigeria Health Watch, has advocated for a clearer advisory on administering the COVID-19 vaccine on pregnant, and nursing mothers in Nigeria.
Ihekweazu told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Saturday, in Abuja, that there was a need for health workers on the frontline to be armed with clear communication and evidence-based information on whether or not COVID-19 vaccines could be administered to pregnant and nursing mothers.
“During a May 2021 webinar, the MSD for mothers funded project, Reducing the Indirect Causes of Maternal Morbidity & Mortality (RICOMM), outlined the evidence around COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy and breastfeeding.
“In ongoing community polling across Nigeria, some of the reasons cited for non-acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccine, included pregnancy, women who stated they were lactating.
”In order to provide reassurance and clear guidance on the use of vaccines for pregnant and nursing mothers, there is a need for advisories that empower health workers with the necessary knowledge and information to better inform and reassure pregnant and nursing mothers, with the right information,” she explained.
She added that the country’s initial vaccine rollout focused on vulnerable populations, and did not initially include audiences that historically were not part of vaccine trials which are; young children, pregnant and nursing mothers.
“So, many countries erring on the side of caution did not initially include them in vaccine programmes.
”In the United Kingdom (UK), pregnant women were initially not included as a priority group, however, the guidance was revised and pregnant women were later encouraged to get the COVID-19 vaccine, as this was seen as the safest way to protect themselves and their babies from severe illness and the possibility of premature birth.
“National Health Service (NHS) data had also shown that fully vaccinated pregnant women were not being hospitalized with COVID-19, compared to unvaccinated pregnant women.
”Vaccines programmes have also been extended to include children aged 12 years and upwards,” she said.
According to her, protecting the health and wellbeing of all Nigerians must be made a priority, as ultimately, vaccines are the best shot at ending the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Health Watch director stressed that vaccines were one of the greatest success stories in public health, that had saved a large number of lives in the country.
“As the COVID-19 outbreak spread globally in 2020, diagnostic, therapeutics and vaccines were the tools used to respond to the outbreak.
”Vaccines were quickly developed, leveraging on years of previous research and helped by the increased funds made available that enabled multiple vaccine trials to take place at the same time. So, by the end of 2020, the first COVID-19 were administered in some countries to stop the spread of the virus.
“Vaccines are not new as a public health intervention, to stem the spread of disease. It enabled the eradication of diseases such as Smallpox, that we are fortunate to never have to worry about again. Routine childhood immunisation programmes are also commonplace globally,” she noted.
Ihekweazu said that the rapid development of the COVID-19 vaccine really put a greater focus on the vaccine development process.
“The breakneck speed in which they were developed led to questions about their safety and efficacy as scepticism set in.
”This has been one of the greatest vaccine rollout programmes that has taken place simultaneously globally, and among age groups that would not traditionally be part of vaccine programmes.
“So, lessons had to be learnt quickly, in terms of the logistics of getting shots in arms as quickly as possible, as well as having to communicate and convince sceptical population groups that the benefits of taking the vaccines far outweighed any potential perceived risks.
“As countries experienced more COVID-19 infections and with the threat of more transmissible variants and further virus mutations, the urgency to vaccinate as many people became more urgent, as not being vaccinated became a significant risk factor that led to hospitalization.
“This made clear and consistent communication even more critical.
”Continuing to communicate and explain the risks and benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine has become quite a difficult task as people are tired of keeping up with the public health and safety recommended, as the prolonged effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are taking their toll,” she said. (NAN)