Japan prioritizes pregnant women for vaccination

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Pregnant women given vaccine priority

Japan’s health ministry has asked local governments across the country to prioritize pregnant women and their partners for coronavirus vaccinations. They can now make reservations or join a waiting list even if they are outside the currently eligible age groups.

The ministry says mothers-to-be should get inoculated because if infected, they are potentially at greater risk of becoming seriously ill or delivering prematurely, especially during the later stages of pregnancy. It says there is no evidence to suggest vaccines harm the fetus or affect breast milk.

Authorities say many pregnant women are getting infected. In about 80 percent of those cases, coronavirus exposure comes via husbands or partners.

Death prompts new approach

The death of a premature baby in August highlighted issues facing pregnant women in Japan. An infected woman was forced to give birth at home in Chiba Prefecture, near Tokyo, because no hospital would admit her. Her baby was born pre-term and was rushed to hospital, but died.

The incident led many pregnant women to consider their options to protect themselves from COVID-19, and prompted authorities to recommend vaccination.

Medical specialists issue advice

Governing bodies for obstetrics and gynecology in Japan recommend vaccinations for women at all stages of pregnancy. They maintain vaccine side-effects are no different from the rest of the population. Rates of miscarriage and premature birth are also unchanged by vaccination.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study in August about the safety of mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna for pregnant women. Among nearly 2,500 who received at least one dose before 20 weeks of pregnancy, the miscarriage rate was about 13 percent. That compares with a normal rate of about 11-16 percent. The CDC found the risk of miscarriage does not increase among pregnant women who have been vaccinated.

CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky strongly encourages vaccination: “The vaccines are safe and effective, and it has never been more urgent to increase vaccinations as we face the highly transmissible Delta variant and see severe outcomes from COVID-19 among unvaccinated pregnant people.”

This information is accurate as of September 27, 2021.