Trinidad and Tobago has lost a baby to COVID-19.
The newborn baby girl’s death was among 19 fatalities reported yesterday by the Ministry of Health.
The baby’s death occurred five days after Dr Joanne Paul, the Senior Paediatric Emergency Medicine Specialist at the Eric Williams Medical Science Complex, warned the country that such a death was inevitable.
Speaking on CNC3’s Turning Point programme last Thursday, Dr Paul minced no words: “It is just coming. Look at the trend. The fifteen-year-old came before. Then we had the thirteen-year-old and, you see the trend coming down. Then, we had the two seven-year-olds. Then, we’re seeing much more babies now, so there is going to be a time where that happens.”
The newborn baby girl became the country’s fifth paediatric death, the third child to die from COVID-19 in less than three weeks and the country’s youngest COVID fatality.
Only last month, Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh said that in the space of three months, 14 children under the age of one were admitted to hospital with COVID-19 and of that number, 11 were under three months old.
From March 2020 to December 1 this year, the country has had 320 paediatric hospital admissions due to COVID-19, which Dr Paul said has been on the rise.
She explained that children aren’t showing the typical respiratory distress seen in adults. Instead, some of the most common symptoms include diarrhoea, fever, irregular heartbeat and seizures.
Newborn babies, particularly those who are premature and those less than three months, were coming in with sepsis, which Dr Paul explained is an infection of the blood due to an immature immune system being suppressed by COVID-19 and allowing abundant bacteria to be present in the blood.
Dr Paul advised parents to watch out for, “when they (babies) are looking shut down, a bit off colour, laying there lethargic and drowsy, and you can tell something is definitely wrong.”
But what is driving these new paediatric infections? According to the doctor, it is the Delta variant of concern.
T&T crosses 1,000 maternal COVID-19 cases
On the same day the death of the newborn baby girl was announced, Director of Women’s Health at the Ministry of Health, Dr Adesh Sirjusingh, revealed the country had recorded 1,002 cases amongst the pregnant population as of March 2020. He said 994 of those cases occurred in 2021, and 440 occurred in the last four months until December 3.
From 2017 to 2020, T&T achieved the Sustainable Development Goal of four or fewer maternal deaths annually. However, in 2021, the country recorded seven maternal deaths, four of which were due to COVID-19.
Dr Sirjusingh added the country now has four confirmed cases of mother-to-child COVID-19 transmission, and “the outcomes have not been good.” He said patient confidentially limits medical practitioners from disclosing case-specific details but noted, “This is largely affecting the unvaccinated population.”
Dr Sirjusingh also explained that these four mother-to-child cases were found in newborn babies swabbed at delivery. Two of these babies are well and asymptomatic; one case was a stillbirth, a recognised complication of COVID-19, and the last case was under investigation.
Dr Sirjusingh said they noticed women becoming severely ill, particularly during the second half of the pregnancy, and the Delta variant is adding to the spread and severe disease. For the babies, the foetus can be affected due to premature birth and mother-to-child transmission.
Change in vaccine policy for pregnant mothers
Trinidad and Tobago approved the Sinopharm and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines for breastfeeding mothers in June 2021 and September 2021 respectively. For those who are pregnant, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is approved for the second and third trimesters, even if the woman received the first dose of Sinopharm or Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine before pregnancy.
Yesterday, the Ministry of Health updated the COVID-19 vaccination programme for pregnant women who received one dose of the Sinopharm vaccine before pregnancy. Now, those pregnant who received their first dose of Sinopharm before pregnancy will receive two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine once they are in their second or third trimester. Only one Pfizer-BioNTech dose will be required to complete the vaccination regime for those who received Oxford-AstraZeneca.
Dr Sirjusingh reiterated that the vaccine is safe, especially in the breastfeeding mother population. The Ministry of Health also noted that the latest change in advice could evolve based on new scientific data.
Country sees second-highest daily cases
As the country also reported 19 new COVID-19 deaths, 801 COVID-19 cases were confirmed yesterday, marking the second-highest daily confirmed COVID-19 case count for the pandemic to date. Of concern, cases on Mondays tend to be the lowest for the week due to reduced sample processing over the weekend.
Meanwhile, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) lost its 19th member to COVID-19. PC Mark Aleia tested positive for COVID-19 and passed away on December 4.