I don’t know a single pregnant woman or parent who doesn’t want a healthy baby. Unfortunately, far too many Black women and their babies experience poor health outcomes. In Fresno, for example, 14.9 percent of African American babies are born prematurely, compared to 8.4 percent of babies born to white women, and Black babies are more than three times more likely to die in their first year of life. This is the reality that the BLACK Wellness & Prosperity Center(BWPC) is working to change every day.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made achieving health equity even harder. That’s because of our community’s disproportionately low rates of vaccination against COVID-19, including pregnant women and parents with infants. Sadly, many remain unconvinced by the science that has demonstrated that vaccination does not cause male or female infertility. The vaccine is proven to be safe and effective for pregnant women and their babies — and women who get vaccinated during pregnancy pass that protection onto their newborns.
We’ve seen the devastating impact of COVID-19 on pregnant women, who face far higher risk of hospitalization and death when they are infected than women who are not pregnant. And when a pregnant woman gets COVID, her baby’s chances of being born early are 40 percent higher. Vaccination against COVID-19 provides a layer of protection that helps safeguard the health of the entire family. Even with efforts from trusted voices, distrust, hesitancy, and myths about the disease and the vaccine persist.
BWPC will continue to counter the misinformation and misunderstanding about vaccination with science-based evidence. Our goal is to respectfully encourage the communities we serve to make the decision to get vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 based on the science.
Despite lingering vaccine hesitancy, we know that our pregnant women and new mothers and fathers want what is best for their babies.
Wearing a mask in most settings is a simple and effective way to protect ourselves and families. Although indoor mask requirements for most settings have eased in recent weeks, masks are still strongly recommended and remain an important tool against a disease that is still with us. This is especially true when we’re around our tiniest children who are unvaccinated and are more vulnerable to COVID infection, and any number of other circulating viral diseases like the flu, RSV and the common cold.
It’s also critical to remember to wear a mask around our older family members and friends, and those who may have pre-existing health conditions or are immune comprised. And if you have a new baby at home, consider limiting visitors or celebrating the birth virtually. When you are joining friends and family, encourage them to wear a mask and to keep six feet away from your new baby.
Our loved ones deserve to be protected. If you have children in public school, where masks are no longer required for students, remind them that masks are still strongly recommended and that no one should be told not to wear one if they feel safer doing so.
At BLACK Wellness & Prosperity Center, where the health and safety of our staff and communities we serve is paramount, we continue to wear masks. And we have created a simple guide to the most effective types of masks.
Remember, our babies are dependent on us for their care and protection. When we protect ourselves and children against COVID-19 with vaccination and wearing a mask we are giving them the best opportunity for a healthy beginning and fulfilling our promise to do what’s best.
About the author: Shantay Davies-Balch is Board Chair of the BLACK Wellness & Prosperity Center, a community-based organization dedicated to improving Black maternal and child outcomes, unite and elevate the Black voice, and build sustainable infrastructure to build Black capacity.