[COLUMN] On COVID-19, pregnancy

WORLDWIDE, as of September 7, 2021, there have been more than 222 million cases of COVID-19, with around 4.6 million deaths. In the United States, there has been 40.8 million cases and nearly 667 thousand deaths, and in the Philippines, more than 2.1 million cases and around 34,500 deaths.

The Delta variant has been found to be more rapidly transmissible, with greater hospitalization and death rates. More than 90 percent of recent cases were unvaccinated people. Because of some breakthrough infections among fully vaccinated individuals, mainly caused by the Delta variant, a booster shot is now recommended for everyone, redefining “fully vaccinated” to mean those who have the third shot, which increases the antibody titer 9-10 times. Since we are averaging 163,000 cases a day because unvaccinated people are getting the virus and spreading it around, it is most prudent (and urgent) that everyone eligible get the vaccine, and everyone continue to stay out of crowds, do social distancing, and wear a face mask which covers both the nose and the mouth in public. This more virulent strain is a serious killer.

Does COVID-19 risk pregnancy?

Yes, those pregnant infected with COVID-19 are more likely to have preterm birth (baby delivered less than 37 weeks) and might even have added poor outcomes related to pregnancy (like losing the baby) compared to those who are pregnant but uninfected and non-pregnant women in general.

Do the vaccines cause miscarriages?

No, the vaccines for COVID-19 do no cause miscarriages or complicate the pregnancy. As a matter of fact, the vaccines prevent these problems. Dangerous fake news in the social media suggesting vaccines are not safe only confuse and scare people, the reason this pandemic might be with us much longer.

Can those pregnant get the vaccines?

Yes, those pregnant are strongly advised to get the vaccine soonest to prevent the risk of premature delivery, adverse health effects on the baby, or stillbirth. The vaccines have been found to be safe and effective for the mother and the baby inside her.

Does the virus pass through the placenta?

No, the virus in an infected woman who is pregnant does not pass through the placenta, so the baby cannot get infected that way, according to NIH-funded studies. But when the mother gets severely infected with COVID-19, the violent inflammatory cytokines (passing though the placenta) developing into a crisis reaction of the immune system of the mother could harm the baby’s neurodevelopment in the womb. The vaccine the pregnant people get does not pass through the placenta either. The antibodies produced by the vaccines can pass through the placenta and protect the baby, who could also get the antibodies from breast-feeding for at least 80 days following vaccination. So, vaccination protects both the mother and the developing baby or the newborn.

How are newborns protected?

Infected mothers could protect their newborn babies by staying away from crowds, washing hands frequently, and wearing a facemask when with other people and when near or taking care of the newborn. This is exactly what nurses routinely do to care for newborns, even without a pandemic.

Not an isolated tragedy

The unvaccinated mother who died of COVID-19 on September 1, 2021 in Las Vegas refused to get the vaccine because she feared the shots might cause a miscarriage. She waited for 10 years to get pregnant. Her 30-week-old baby girl was delivered by emergency C-section. The newborn has underdeveloped lungs and bleeding in the brain, but is reportedly doing better.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. There have been reports of similar tragedies – some ended with both the infected (unvaccinated) mother and baby dying. The luckier ones who survived with their babies have now been converts, advocating people to get vaccinated.

The two radio talk show hosts who were self-proclaimed anti-vaccine advocates, and who got infected with COVID-19 and died, have surely scared their listeners into getting vaccinated.

Globally, about 2.2 billion people (out of the 7.9 billion total world population) have been fully vaccinated; 176 million in the United States, which is about 53.6 percent of the U.S. population. These data are overwhelming and most convincing proof that the vaccines are safe and effective (since more than 90 percent of current COVID-19 infections and deaths involved unvaccinated people).

Fetuses doubly safer

Fetuses in the womb of vaccinated mothers are safer from COVID-19 as explained above. They are also safer now from being intentionally terminated, at least in Texas, according to news media, with a new most restrictive law which took effect on September 1, “prohibiting abortions whenever an ultrasound can detect a fetal ‘heartbeat’.” This act essentially bans abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy. This law would affect at least 85 percent of the abortions performed in Texas. The new legislation “establishes a system where members of the public can sue abortion providers for a minimum of US$10,000 in statutory damages, instead of state officials enforcing the new law.” The clever legal mechanism skirts Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. More than 62 million babies have been aborted since 1973. The effect of this new law is a de facto ban on abortion in Texas. Other states are expected to follow suit.

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As we celebrated the 20th anniversary of 9/11, new research by the Edith Cowan University has shown that “responders to the 9/11 terrorist attacks are still suffering 20 years later, with many facing significant health issues related to the event. More than 91,000 responders were exposed to a range of hazards during recovery and clean-up operations, with 80,785 enrolling in the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP) set up after the attacks. Records show 3,439 are now dead – far more than the 412 who died on the day of the attacks – with aerodigestive illness (34 percent) as the number one cause, ahead of cancer (30 percent) and mental health (16 percent). Deaths attributed to these three factors and musculoskeletal and acute traumatic injuries have increased six-fold since the start of 2016.”

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Let us continue to remember and honor the military who risk their lives to protect our freedom and security, all first responders in calamities, and all our physicians and allied healthcare providers who expose themselves (and their families at home) to COVID-19 while saving millions of lives in the country and billions around the world. Their sacrifices also have severe tolls on their own physical and mental health, and yet they continue to serve. May God bless all of them for their unselfish services to their fellow beings and to humanity as a whole!

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The main objective of this column is to educate and inspire people live a healthier lifestyle to prevent illnesses and disabilities and achieve a happier and more productive life. Any diagnosis, recommendation or treatment in our article are general medical information and not intended to be applicable or appropriate for anyone. This column is not a substitute for your physician, who knows your condition well and who is your best ally when it comes to your health.

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Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, a Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, is an international medical lecturer/author, a Health Advocate, and Chairman of the Filipino United Network-USA, a 501(c)3 humanitarian foundation in the United States. Websites: philipSchua.com, Today.SPSAtoday.com, and FUN8888.com; Email: scalpelpen@gmail.com.



Dr. Philip S. Chua

Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States.

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