Pregnant women can now register on the CoWIN platform or visit any vaccination centre for the COVID-19 shots, the government said on Friday. Signaling a major policy shift, the Union Health Ministry said that it had shared rules and procedures with states to roll out the programme smoothly. The move was made based on the recommendations of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.
Till today, all groups including lactating women were eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, which has now been expanded to cover pregnant women as well. As per the government, studies have shown that COVID-19 infection during pregnancy may result in rapid deterioration in the health of pregnant women, and place them at an increased risk of severe disease, which might affect the foetus too.
"The Health Ministry has given guidelines that the vaccine can be given to pregnant women. Vaccination is useful for them and should be given", Dr Balram Bhargava, Director-General of the Indian Council for Medical Research, was quoted as saying by news agency ANI last week.
The matter was examined based on evidence that the risk of severe illness for pregnant women due to COVID-19 is higher compared with non-pregnant women, it said in the release. Bhargava last week had said that the COVID-19 vaccines were safe and useful for pregnant women, and that they should be inoculated.
"Considering the current situation of pandemic, NTAGI-STSC recommends pregnant women should not be excluded from vaccination because exposure probability is very high and therefore the benefit far outweighs the risk", the committee said in the minutes of its May 28 meeting.
Moreover, COVID-19 positive pregnant women are also at a higher risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes such as preterm birth and neonatal morbidity, it added. The health ministry has accepted the recommendations from the technical group, and sent the operational guidelines of the revision to states, and Union Territories for its implementation.
Doubts were raised about the possible risks to the mother or child - including that of clotting (or thrombosis) with the Covishield jab, but the committee decided "benefit far outweighs the risk".