Two more women have died from complications of the Covid-19 virus after giving birth to their babies.
Trinidad and Tobago now has four Covid-19 maternal deaths on record, Director of Women’s Health at the Ministry of Health Dr Adesh Sirjusingh said at yesterday’s Covid-19 virtual news conference.
He also reported that a pregnant woman who contracted the virus suffered a stillbirth while there are now four confirmed cases of mother-to-child Covid-19 transmissions.
Warning that stillbirths and maternal deaths were complications of the virus, Sirjusingh again pleaded with pregnant women who are yet to be vaccinated against the virus to get it done.
He said since Covid-19 vaccinations started for pregnant women at the end of August, 962 women have received their vaccine.
Pregnant women in their second and third trimester, as well as breastfeeding women, are eligible to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine.
The Sinopharm vaccine is approved for breastfeeding women but not for pregnant women.
“I am reminding everyone that pregnancy is a very high-risk condition if you contract Covid and become symptomatic,” Sirjusingh stressed.
He emphasised that when a pregnant woman becomes ill, doctors may need to deliver her baby in order to save her life.
“This is called iatrogenic or induced prematurity,” he said.
Sirjusingh said, according to data up to October 31, a total of 12,192 babies have been born since the start of this year – 11,009 in the public health care and 1,183 in the private sector.
He reported that since the start of the pandemic, 1,002 pregnant women have contracted the virus.
He said between January and August there were 504 cases, in September there were 161 cases, in October there were 126 cases and in November the figure was 150 cases. Three cases have been recorded in December thus far, he noted.
Mothers are dying
According to Sirjusingh, “Since 2017, T&T has been doing very well in terms of the reversal of maternal deaths that were seen prior to this. For four consecutive years we achieved what is called the sustainable development targets, which are less than 30 per 100,000 live births, which equates to every given year we had four or less maternal deaths for four consecutive years”.
When Sirjusingh last presented at the Covid-19 news conference in September, he said there were two maternal deaths related to Covid-19.
This figure has doubled to four, he lamented yesterday.
In a WhatsApp response to the Express, he clarified that all four deaths were postpartum.
He said during the news conference that he could not share details of the additional deaths just yet.
“These are clinical issues and we are still investigating. But this means that for this year, we have seven maternal deaths in total instead of the higher level of four. So we will not be meeting our targets for this year and this is one of the impacts worldwide…..mothers are dying as a result of Covid-19. So I want to ask the population one more time to form that barrier around our pregnant population,” he urged.
“What we have been finding is that persons are bringing Covid, they are unvaccinated, our pregnant patients are also unvaccinated. They’re bringing Covid into their home and infecting this high-risk population,” he said.
He added: “There are certain high-risk conditions. If you are in the second half of pregnancy, if you’re older for pregnancy, we consider above the age of 35, if you’re obese, patients with chronic diseases, these are even higher-risk pregnant woman.”
He reiterated that the Delta variant is compounding the situation for pregnant women, as it is more transmissible and is causing more severe illness.
In terms of the effect of the virus on foetuses, Sirjusingh said:
“The good news is that we haven’t seen any syndrome where the Covid virus is affecting the baby and causing foetal anomalies. The foetus can be affected in terms of having smaller babies, pre-term babies…”
On the four mother-to-child transmissions of the Covid-19 virus, Sirjusingh said the outcomes “have not been good”.
“I can’t go into more details, but these are things that are happening right here in Trinidad and Tobago. And it’s being seen across in the United Kingdom as well. And this is largely affecting the vaccinated population,” he stated.
In response to a question from the media, Sirjusingh noted when pregnant women present to the hospital to deliver their baby or for antenatal clinics, they are rigorously screened for the virus.
“And, therefore, we are detecting Covid in our pregnant patients. If you are in the labour ward, the babies are swabbed at birth as part of our protocols,” he said.
“These four cases are in four newborn babies at delivery…..and we believe these are mother-to -child transmission. Two of those babies are well, asymptomatic. In one case, we did have a stillbirth, which is a recognised complication of Covid-19 and we are still investigating one other case for the details,” he said.
Vaccines still available
In a media release yesterday, the Ministry of Health said Covid-19 vaccines are still available to pregnant women.
It reiterated that if a pregnant woman received a first dose of the Sinopharm vaccine before pregnancy, she will be given two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine during pregnancy, once she is in her second or third trimester of pregnancy.
It said she will be considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
A second dose of the Sinopharm vaccine will not be required upon completion of the pregnancy, the ministry stated.
It noted that the previous guidance for a woman who received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine before pregnancy remains unchanged – she is eligible for a single dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as her second dose, once she is in her second and third trimesters of pregnancy, and will be considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the second vaccine dose.