KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 10 — Watching her young child playing, 28-year-old Mujahidah Abdul Jalil wondered if she should take the Covid-19 vaccine.
She was still nursing 20-month-old Iman and was worried about the side effects.
Pregnant radio presenter Suliana Mohd Saffuan also had similar concerns.
“I want to take the vaccine, but will it hurt my unborn child? What are the risks? Doctors seem to differ in opinion when it comes to the safety of the Covid-19 vaccine for pregnant women. This worries me,” she tells Bernama.
However, Health Deputy Director-General (Public Health) Datuk Dr Chong Chee Keong tells Bernama that current data does not point to the vaccine being dangerous for pregnant or nursing women.
“Current assessment by the country’s experts show no data to indicate that the vaccine is unsafe for pregnant or nursing women,” he said, referring to the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine Comirnaty.
This, however, seems to go against the policy recommendation of the WHO.
“According to the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE), the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 mRNA vaccine is safe and effective. Nevertheless, there are specific populations for whom vaccination is not recommended, either due to contraindications, lack of supply, or limited data. These populations currently include people with a history of severe allergies, most pregnant women, international travellers who are not part of a prioritized group, and children under 16,” it states on its website.
Dr Chong explains this: “The vaccine is new, so there are data from clinical studies still being discovered. This is why experts have always been cautious in coming up with guidelines for vulnerable groups, including pregnant and nursing women.
“This statement is not wrong as it is based on the data available at the time. The Health Ministry’s policy is that the vaccine we use is completely safe, and the rakyat can fully benefit from it,” he said in an exclusive interview.
Comirnaty was granted a conditional registration in Malaysia in January 2021, making it the first Covid-19 vaccine registered for use in the country.
Dr Chong, however, advised pregnant and nursing women who wished to take Comirnaty to consult a specialist first.
“Based on an assessment by obstetrics and gynaecology specialists, pregnant women can only take the vaccine between the 14th and 33rd weeks of their pregnancy,” he said.
Even then, pregnant and nursing women wishing to take the jab should be assessed for their susceptibility to getting infected with Covid-19.
“We need to assess whether the risk of contracting Covid-19 outweighs the risk of possible adverse effects or complications from the vaccine.
“For example, the risk of getting Covid-19 for pregnant women from among frontliners who work in the emergency department, Intensive Care Unit (ICU), isolation wards and outpatient department are much higher than the risk of side effects from the vaccine, which is very rarely reported,” he explained.
Dr Chong said that pregnant women who were infected were also at higher risk of going into the ICU and needing respiratory support compared to other women.
“A study carried out in Mexico, as reported in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in 2021, revealed that pregnant women are at higher risk for death, developing pneumonia, and being admitted into the ICU, compared to women who weren’t pregnant,” he said.
It was for those reasons that he hoped frontliners who were pregnant would be considered for inoculation – after due consultation with respective specialists.
But what about women – who in addition to being pregnant – also have chronic diseases?
“Pregnant or nursing women who have chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure are at higher risk of getting Covid-19 and developing serious complications.
“They need to be given protection and considered for the vaccine,” said Dr Chong.
However, they still needed to consult specialists in obstetrics as well as the diseases they are afflicted with before even considering vaccination.