As public health experts continue to encourage Muscogee County residents to get the COVID-19 vaccine, one obstetrician-gynecologist at St. Francis-Emory Hospital has made fostering a dialogue about patients’ vaccine status part of his regular practice.
Columbus is home for Dr. Kevin McRae, making the pandemic harder to bear at times, he said. He cares about every patient, but in Columbus the degree of separation is small. He might have gone to school with one of his patients, or he could be treating the niece or nephew of someone he played soccer with in the past.
“And with that close connection with patients, you have no choice but to take things home,” McRae said. “You just find yourself maybe lost at times because there’s nothing you can do and your hands are tied.”
In Muscogee County, 44% of residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 39% are fully vaccinated, as of Nov. 24 according to the Georgia Department of Health. About 56% of those who have received at least one dose of the vaccine are women, and 48.8% of all women in the county are vaccinated.
Muscogee County residents between the ages of 20-34 years old account for 17.7% of individuals who have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Around 32% of all residents between the ages of 20-24 are vaccinated, and almost 33% of those between the ages of 35-34 are vaccinated.
McRae, who has a background in molecular biology, attended St. Matthew’s University School of Medicine and did his residency at Meharry Medical College. Creating a dialogue about vaccination status is important because this is a major topic with women’s healthcare in Columbus and around the world, McRae said.
The Ledger-Enquirer spoke with McRae about what women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should know about the COVID-19 vaccine. Answers may have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What is the biggest piece of misinformation that you’ve heard from patients?
A: Two common misconceptions that I see a lot in my practice are thoughts that the vaccine will affect fertility and will cause miscarriages. Both of those have been proven to be absolutely false.
(Healthcare professionals) are tracing a lot of pregnant women after (they’ve gotten the vaccine) to see if any complications have come about. And in every study that they have done, there have not been any adverse events related to the COVID-19 vaccine. The CDC has tracked over 160,000 women, and there have been no adverse events with pregnancy or neonatal outcomes that have not been normal.
Q: Why should pregnant women get vaccinated?
A: We have increased risks when it comes to pregnancy. Those increased risks are from mechanical ventilation and lead up to death. We’ve seen plenty of studies that show that women are at increased risk for these adverse events when they have a symptomatic COVID infection.
We want to do everything we can to prevent them from getting the virus. And if they do get the virus, depending on what vaccine you get, there is a 80-95% chance that you’re not going to die or need to be ventilated.
Q: Does getting vaccinated while pregnant provide protection to the newborn against COVID-19?
A: We have seen the antibodies have been passed through breast milk to the baby to provide some sort of protection.
Q: Can you explain why it’s not possible for the COVID-19 vaccine to give a person the virus?
A: So, we would get into a problem if the vaccine incorporates itself into your DNA. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine is a little different from the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which use mRNA. This provides a way for the body to see a foreign substance, and that foreign substance is related to the COVID-19 virus.
That causes your body to produce antibodies. The foreign substance is inactivated, so you’re not going to get the virus, but you will get the antibody based on the mRNA coming into your body.
With the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it’s kind of the same thing where a foreign body comes into your body and produces an antibody response, but it’s a different method of going about it. But all three are quite effective in doing the job.
Q: Should individuals trying to get pregnant be concerned about fertility problems related to the vaccine?
A: Without getting really technical, the main thing is that the vaccine does not incorporate itself into your DNA. So, it is almost impossible for the vaccine to affect someone’s fertility.
Q: Is there any other advice you would give women concerned about the vaccine?
A: I think that it’s very important for everyone to get empowered and do their own research. The problem that I find with everybody — and this is with everything — are the sources of our research. Google, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok are probably not the best resources to use.
One resource with regards to this topic would be acog.org. They even have a box when you first go to the page that deals with a lot of COVID-19 resources. So, I would encourage you to do that instead of going to your Facebook feed to get answers. I think that’s where we have a lot of our trouble with regards to disinformation.
If you make the decision to not get a vaccine, that will not affect a health practitioner from taking care of you. So, I just want people to throw that out the window. We are going to take care of you regardless. We just really highly encourage people to get the vaccine for their safety, baby’s safety and for the world.