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Commentary: Moms-to-be and new moms, don’t delay on COVID-19 vaccines to protect you and your babies

A nurse gives a 5-year-old a COVID-19 vaccine at Coastal Kids in Newport Beach.
A nurse gives a 5-year-old a COVID-19 vaccine at Coastal Kids in Newport Beach.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

COVID-19 has devastated many families in Orange County and across America who have lost a parent, a grandparent, a child or other loved ones. Fortunately, the approved vaccines, which finally arrived after a tortuously long year of grim statistics and upheaval in our daily lives, have shown remarkable efficacy against the highly contagious coronavirus.

The fight against COVID-19 took another major step forward in early November of this year when the FDA officially approved vaccination against COVID-19 for children ages 5 to 11. With that action, we are now only awaiting vaccination approval for the very youngest among us — children 0 to 5.

Yet, even with the intense focus on getting as many people as possible vaccinated, we as a society have largely overlooked an important group in our concerted vaccination communications push — pregnant women.

Did you know that, as of early October, only 31% of pregnant women had been vaccinated prior to or during their pregnancies? Given the vaccines’ demonstrated ability to protect against the highly transmissible coronavirus, that statistic is alarming.

Here’s why it’s so frightening: With the pandemic’s deadly delta surge, growing numbers of women who contract COVID-19 also are experiencing increased rates of preeclampsia/eclampsia, preterm labor, hospitalizations including ICU admissions, and mortality (from 0.005% to 0.14%). COVID-19 not only impacts our moms and moms-to-be, it also increases morbidity and mortality for the babies of these women.

Many pregnant women no doubt are skipping vaccination due to the misinformation campaigns that are pedaling dangerously misleading or outright false narratives about the vaccines’ safety and efficacy. These narratives are needlessly placing the lives of moms-to-be and their unborn children in danger. The CDC’s v-safe COVID-19 pregnancy registry has not found any increased risk of spontaneous abortion with the COVID-19 vaccine.

At First 5 Orange County, we’re urging anyone who is pregnant, who is planning to soon become pregnant or who have babies in their care, to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, for them and their babies’ well-being. For those with newborns: If you delayed being vaccinated during your pregnancy, please do so now, while lactating, to protect both you and your baby.

Make no mistake, the youngest among us — our babies, our toddlers, our preschoolers — are not immune from the virus’ odious reach: With the Delta surge, there was an increase in hospitalizations requiring intensive care unit admission among all age groups 0 to 17 years old. The likelihood of hospitalizations increased by 10 times in unvaccinated versus vaccinated children. And there was also a 10 times increase in hospitalizations of children 0 to 4 years old.

We need to vaccinate children 5 years old and up and provide immunity to newborns by ensuring pregnant mothers are vaccinated. The risk of COVID-19 and long-term complications far exceeds that of receiving the vaccine. The Delta variant has made it tragically clear that our children are vulnerable to COVID-19.

They should — they must — be afforded the same protection as adults.

There is a lot of misinformation circulating out there about the vaccines. If you have questions regarding the vaccine, please talk to your primary care provider. If you are pregnant and have concerns regarding receiving the vaccine, please talk to your OB/GYN. If you have questions regarding the vaccine for your children, please make an appointment with your pediatrician. And if you’re looking for vaccinations for your children, please contact the Orange County Health Care Agency and visit https://occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/covid-19-vaccine-distribution-channels to find a COVID-19 vaccine.

If we hope to continue to turn the tide against COVID-19, protecting our youngest children must be central to our efforts.

Katherine Chiu is a commissioner with First 5 Orange County and is the Director of Pediatric Anesthesiology at UC Irvine’s School of Medicine Department of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Care.

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