COVID News: Pregnant Women Urged to Get Vaccine, UK Health Experts Push for New Restrictions and More
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Only about a third of pregnant women in the U.S. are vaccinated against COVID-19. Unfortunately, there are increasing cases of COVID-19 in unvaccinated women that can lead to the mother’s or baby’s death or other negative outcomes. Here’s a look at that story and others on a busy morning for news about the virus.
Pregnant Women Urged to Get Vaccinated Against COVID-19
Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been more than 125,000 reported cases of pregnant women with COVID-19 in the U.S., with at least 161 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only about 31% of pregnant women in the U.S. are vaccinated. The CDC has warned that COVID-19 during pregnancy can result in preterm birth and other negative outcomes, including stillbirths.
Amanda Harrison was one of those women. From Phenix City, Alabama, she was 29 weeks pregnant and unvaccinated when she was diagnosed with COVID-19 in August 2021. The symptoms were initially mild but grew worse, and she was intubated and flown to a hospital in Birmingham. Her baby was born two months early and Amanda was placed on life support.
Another woman, Kyndal Nipper, from Columbus, Georgia, was almost full-term when she contracted COVID-19 and lost her baby boy. The two women are sharing their stories to try and persuade pregnant women to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We made a commitment that we would do anything in our power to educate and advocate for our boy because no other family should have to go through this,” Nipper told AP.
Both women had decided to wait for vaccines after they became available to pregnant women in their states. Nipper’s symptoms were mild, but the baby boy, who she had expected to deliver in three weeks, had acquired the virus. It likely affected the baby’s ability to get oxygen and nutrients, leading to stillbirth.
Nipper said, “Looking back, I know I did everything that I could have possibly done to give him a healthy life. The only thing I didn’t do, and I’ll have to carry with me, is I didn’t get the vaccine.”
Fetal Sex Influences Mother’s Response to COVID-19
Studies out of Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s Hospital on the effects of COVID-19 in pregnant women revealed some interesting facts. First, they found that pregnant and lactating women produce robust antibody responses to both infection and vaccination. The twist is associated with why COVID-19 affects male adults, children and infants more harshly than females.
“What’s striking here is that the mothers who are carrying male babies have much lower levels of antibodies to the coronavirus,” said Akiko Iwasaki, a virologist and immunologist at Yale University who was not involved in the research. “What’s interesting about that is it means that the sex of the baby can dictate how the mother responds to a viral infection.”
Males are more likely to become severely ill and die from COVID-19 than females. Some of it seems to be related to a slower response to the virus in males which then creates more pro-inflammatory molecules, leading to cytokine storms. In one of the new studies, researchers found that in response to COVID-19 in mothers, male placentas turned on more pro-inflammatory immune activation genes than the placentas in the female fetuses.
Andrea Edlow, a maternal fetal medicine physician at Mass General and assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School, who co-led the new studies, said, “What the downstream effects are going to be for the child we still don’t know. But it’s definitely going to be important to follow up the development of these children on the basis of sex because we see these really profound changes in the placenta that suggest that the intrauterine environment is suddenly altered even in the setting of mild maternal disease.”
UK Public Health Experts Urge New Round of Restrictions
Health leaders in the U.K. are pleading with the government to reimpose COVID-19 restrictions because of a surge of infections and hospitalizations. They warned that the U.K. is “stumbling into a winter crisis” if the government doesn’t reimpose restrictions, the so-called “Plan B.” The NHS Confederation, a group that represents healthcare organizations across the U.K., issued a statement calling on the government “to introduce measures, such as mandatory face coverings in crowded and enclosed spaces, without delay to keep people well and avoid the NHS from becoming overwhelmed this winter.”
The U.K. is presently reporting between 40,000 and 50,000 new COVID-19 cases per day, with increasing hospitalizations and deaths.
Gates Foundation to Deliver $120 Million Worth of Merck’s Molnupiravir to Poorer Countries
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation plans to distribute up to $120 million worth of Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics' COVID-19 antiviral, molnupiravir, to lower-income countries. The arrangement is pending authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is expected in late November. Merck and Ridgeback submitted data to the FDA on October 11 after reporting positive interim data from the Phase III trial on October 1. In mild-to-moderate COVID-19 patients, the drug reduced the risk for hospitalization and death in adults by approximately 50%.
“The unjust reality, however, is that low-income countries have had to wait for everything from personal protective equipment to vaccines,” said Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation. “That is unacceptable. Today’s commitment will ensure that more people in more countries get access to the promising drug molnupiravir, but it’s not the end of the story – we need other donors, including foundations and governments, to act.”
According to a study by the CDC, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is 93% effective in preventing hospitalizations in kids ages 12 to 18 years. Researchers used efficacy data from 464 hospitalized patients, including 179 lab-confirmed COVID-19 and 285 controls without the virus from 19 pediatric hospitals between June and September 2021.
Out of people eligible for the vaccine, adolescents have the lowest vaccination rates. Only 46% of 12- to 15-year-olds and 53% of 16- to 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated. Of young adults 18 to 24, 54% are fully vaccinated.
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