Gender inequity and COVID-19 vaccination policies for pregnant women in the Americas
Ambrogi I., Brito L., Griner A., Bull S.
The region of the Americas has been the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic’s worst outcome in terms of number of deaths due to COVID-19. SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy and the postpartum period has been found to be associated with increased risk of mortality and severe disease. Several Latin American and Caribbean countries have disproportionally high maternal mortality rates due to COVID-19. Although this region achieved relatively high vaccination rates among the general adult population, there were differing restrictions regarding the vaccination of those who were pregnant. In a pandemic, policies reflect political priorities in responses to the threats posed to populations and play an important role in promoting gender equity. This paper reports the results of an ethical analysis of 45 national COVID-19 vaccination public policies from seven countries – Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and United States. The analysis drew on reproductive justice and feminist bioethics frameworks, paying close attention to whether and how gender and social and economic inequities were addressed. It found that exclusionary approaches in immunization policies which restricted access to vaccination during pregnancy were often justified on the basis of a lack of evidence about the effects of immunization of pregnant persons, and on the grounds of medical expertise, to the detriment of women’s autonomy and agency. As such these policies reiterate patriarchal moral understandings of women, pregnancy and motherhood. In practice, they counter human rights gender equity and equality principles, and became lethal, particularly to racialized women in Latin America. During an emerging lethal disease, policies and policy development must consider the intersection of oppressive structures to protect and guarantee rights of women, girls, and pregnant persons.