Even as others around them line up to get vaccinated, pregnant and lactating women face doubts because they have not been part of most Covid vaccine clinical trials. Actually, women have long been afterthoughts in medical trials. In addition, pregnant women are usually excluded from such biomedical research for protective reasons. But emerging small-scale data suggests that pregnant women might be at greater risk of complications from severe Covid and therefore should have been a priority group.
Our bodies are not the same, which is why women’s experiences also have to be documented in equal numbers. Instead they have not been adequately attended to even during the Covid pandemic. Clarity is only emerging with time. In the early months of the pandemic, public health journals and experts urged sex-disaggregated analysis. But while Covid vaccine development and drug testing have lately incorporated women and other marginalised groups, there still remain big data gaps because of the traditional sidelining of women.
Their hormonal fluctuations are not factored into many tests, for the convenience of the researchers rather than on account of effects in real life. Even during the 2002-04 SARS outbreak, pregnant women’s health outcomes were not systematically tracked, leading to an information vacuum for the next epidemic. Amid India’s second wave, pregnant and lactating women are relying on experts and data that suggest they should have the choice to take the vaccine. In other countries, new mothers are even hoping that they are passing on antibodies to their babies through breastmilk.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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