Malaysia: Pregnant Women Urged to Get Vaccinated after Pop Star’s Death

S. Adie Zul and Muzliza Mustafa
Kuala Lumpur
2021-08-13
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Malaysia: Pregnant Women Urged to Get Vaccinated after Pop Star’s Death Family members of a COVID-19 victim cry following burial at a cemetery in Batu Caves, Malaysia, Jan. 27, 2021.
Reuters

Nur Iffah, 25, who is seven months pregnant with her first child, got vaccinated against COVID-19 despite worrying about how it might affect her baby.

She felt grateful this week to have taken that step as she and the rest of Malaysia mourned the death of a popular singer who died of coronavirus shortly after giving birth to her fourth child. 

“It was heartbreaking news. ... As an expectant mother, I prayed hard that she would survive,” Nur Iffah said of Siti Sarah Raisuddin, 36, who died on Monday.

Vaccination rates for pregnant women are lagging behind those of the general population, health authorities said, and the pop singer was among those who had yet to get the jab.

“At the early stage of pregnancy, I was a bit worried about possible side effects of the vaccination to my pregnancy, but I am grateful that I have taken the jabs, judging by the unfortunate passing of Siti Sarah,” Nur Iffah told BenarNews.

“Her death has left some emotional effect on me because I am also in the third trimester.”

The pop star was eight months pregnant, ill with COVID and fighting to breathe when she was admitted to a hospital. In an effort to save her baby, doctors put her into an induced coma and conducted a cesarean section to deliver the premature baby boy.

Siti Sarah died three days later.

Her husband, comedian and businessman Shahmira Muhamad – popularly known as Shuib Sepahtu – said the whole family contracted the coronavirus, as did their Indonesian maid, who died on Aug 6.

“If you have the opportunity to get a vaccine, take it. These days, we face death every day. COVID-19 can happen in the blink of an eye,” he said in a Facebook Live session following his wife’s death.

He admitted that he had doubted the existence of the pandemic.

“Before, I didn’t want to believe in it, but when it came, it punched me in the nose,” he said.

“I used to quarrel with my wife because I was not afraid to go out and meet friends to discuss work. She was worried she would get infected.”

70 deaths since March

On Thursday, Malaysian Health Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah expressed concern over the rise in COVID-19 infections among pregnant women in the country, in tandem with the spike of cases in the general population, which breached 20,000 recently.  

Between March and June, 3,396 pregnant mothers had tested positive with COVID-19, and 70 of them had died, he said. There were no COVID-linked deaths of pregnant women in 2020.

Of 17 expectant mothers who died in June, 15 were not vaccinated, Noor Hisham said.

“We must all get vaccinated and self-isolate ourselves, avoid crowded and confined spaces,” he told BenarNews.

“Please take all the precautionary measures to prevent from getting infected. More importantly, when we gather again in [due] time, no one [should be] missing from the head count. Stay safe and stay home.”

He advised expectant mothers who contract the virus to visit a COVID-19 Assessment Center to undergo evaluation by a doctor, even if they are not showing symptoms.

And he urged pregnant women who have yet to get appointment for vaccination to contact the nearest health clinic to expedite the date.

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A pregnant woman arrives for a COVID-19 swab test in Surabaya, Indonesia, July 21, 2020. [AFP]

More vulnerable when pregnant

Salina Sany, an OB-GYN who also teaches at Science University of Malaysia, told BenarNews the World Health Organization has ruled that COVID-19 vaccination is safe during pregnancies – although data on vaccination’s impact on the first trimester is limited, she said.

She stressed that physiological changes that occur during pregnancy can make women vulnerable to infection, especially in the second and third trimester, and this could lead them to develop a more serious case of COVID-19.

“Getting vaccination may help the mothers to reduce the risk,” she said.

A pregnant woman should not be denied vaccination at any stage of pregnancy as long as the benefit is higher than the risk, Salina said.

In updated guidance this week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control urged pregnant women to get vaccinated and said fears that this could lead to miscarriages were not supported by data.

“CDC recommends that pregnant people should be vaccinated against COVID-19, based on new evidence about the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines,” it said on Aug. 11.

Thus far, close to 150,000 pregnant women have registered to get vaccinated via Malaysia’s COVID-19 tracking application, MySejahtera, according to the country’s health ministry.

That’s just 40 percent of the estimated number of women who get pregnant annually, compared to 62 percent of Malaysia’s general population who have signed up to get a jab.

Sakinah Mohd Sharif, 35, of Penang, is pregnant with her third child. She said Siti Sarah’s death served to remind women like her of the grave threat of COVID-19.

“We should be alarmed with the rising number of deaths among pregnant mothers,” said Sakinah, who is scheduled to receive her second COVID-19 vaccine next week.

For her part, Nur Iffah strictly follows health protocols even though she is fully vaccinated. Infection rates are high in the northern state of Kedah, where she lives.

“I only leave the house to attend check-up appointments, wear a double face-mask and observe physical distancing after learning that pregnant mothers in trimester two and three have higher health risk if contracting the virus,” she said.

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