The COVID-19 Vaccine and Pregnancy: What You Need to Know

As an OB/GYN physician, my patients ask me many questions about how to protect the health of their pregnancy.  It is common to have discussions in the office about what medications are safe, what environmental exposures they should avoid, and what is required for a safe delivery.  Over the last year, patients have had to ask another list of questions about the effects of COVID-19 on their pregnancy.  And although the answers are still evolving, we are gaining more information each day about the virus’ effect on mom and baby. 

When it comes to COVID-19, we know that pregnancy is classified as a high-risk condition by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  This means that pregnant women are more likely to get severely ill (hospitalized, admitted to ICU, and intubated) from diseases or other viruses, including COVID-19 compared to non-pregnant women. Due to this risk, it is important that we protect pregnant women from getting the virus.  Protective measures include masking, physical distancing, and vaccination. 

Is Vaccination Safe in Pregnancy? 

Currently, there are vaccine studies underway enrolling pregnant patients. Research has shown that pregnant and lactating women that receive the vaccination produce a comparable immune response to nonpregnant people.  Also, COVID-19 antibodies have been detected in the umbilical cord blood and breastmilk after maternal vaccination.      

We are gathering data from a “V-Safe Pregnancy Registry” about outcomes from women vaccinated during pregnancy.  As of May 17, 2021, over 4,900 pregnant people have enrolled.  To date, there have been no safety concerns and side effects were similar in the pregnant and nonpregnant populations.  Vaccinated pregnant people did not have an increased risk of miscarriage, preterm labor, stillbirth or congenital anomalies.  This data is very reassuring, and we encourage all patients vaccinated in pregnancy to join the registry.  (vsafe.cdc.gov)

Making an Informed Decision

The American Congress of OB/GYN (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine (SMFM) both recommend giving pregnant women access to the COVID-19 vaccine.  Also, The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine states that the vaccine does not affect the safety of breastmilk and thus supports vaccination for lactating people.  

Pregnant people should make a shared decision with their OB/GYN provider after discussing the risks and benefits of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy.  They should also be supported if they choose not to get vaccinated and special emphasis should then be placed on interventions that are safe and proven to work – handwashing, masking and physical distancing.

Improved vaccination rates are key to us returning to life as normal.  If you are pregnant, considering pregnancy or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Delicious, Nutritious Kitchen Gardens are a Growing Trend

Flavors and aromas from fresh herbs and veggies make meals treasured experiences that inspire the senses. The good news is that everyone can enjoy this simple, restorative pleasure by setting up a kitchen/small container garden that takes little space, but significantly enhances the quality of life. “People know more than they think about growing food – instincts kick in very quickly,” said Laura Meisler, St. Joe’s Farm Education Coordinator and a lifelong gardener. “In gardening there are no failures, only experiments that teach lessons. Plus you may discover a new favorite flavor.”

While many people avoid gardening after accidently killing a few innocent house plants, it’s important to remember that herbs and veggies are often more hardy and forgiving than ferns. Also they’re far more tasty. But first things first…

The set up

If your space is limited, smaller decorative containers can be used as indoor herb gardens providing classic, but diverse cooking herbs such as Basil (Genovese is popular); Oregano; Rosemary, Thyme and Cilantro. When harvesting indoor or outdoor herbs, clip from the side and your plants will keep producing. If you love Oregano and brussels sprouts, try this easy, yet delicious recipe below.

If you have a deck or porch, larger containers such as 3-5 gallon planters can be used to grow some veggies. Or if you’re frugal, make friends with your local restaurant owner and grab five-gallon pickle buckets for free. These large buckets are perfect for a range of plants.

Once you have the containers, drill about 10 3/8″ holes in the bottom of each, then deposit some gravel.  Now comes the dirt.  For a few, larger outdoor containers, you’ll want to get three or four 40lb bags of organic potting soil and one bag of peat.  (The peat will help the soil retain moisture, in case you want to go away for the weekend or you just forget to water the plants.) Mix about three-parts potting soil to one-part peat. 

Now you’re ready, what should you plant?

Fortunately, there’s a lot of options for container gardens that produce plenty of wonderful food throughout the season. Here’s a few recommendations:

  • Greens – Lettuces aren’t just ice-berg any more. Plus the names are way more cool. Today’s greens provide a range of nutritious, incredible flavors that if you selectively harvest (like your herbs) will provide meals through the season. Laura recommends heirloom greens – grow varieties not found in stores: Flashy troutback lettuce is a beautiful red and green variety and seeds are easily found.  Mizuna is fantastic green that you can also boil/blanch like spinach.  Speaking of spinach, there’s nothing better either in a salad, or tossed into a pasta dish. Purple kale is another tried and true green along with Swiss chard, that produces stalks that can be eaten like celery.  Plus kale and chard can be used for delicious juices with apples and fresh ginger root. Lastly, butter-crunch-bib lettuce is container friendly and has a very mild, sweet flavor.  Sun Needs – many greens do better in indirect sunlight, so if you have a shady part of the deck, that’s perfect for your greens.  
  • Herbs, again – In addition to the classics we already covered, Sage and Rosemary can be grown outdoors and then brought in for the winter. In addition to gracing your home with an incredible aroma, these woody herbs are essential for a wide range of recipes. Sun Needs – Most herbs, like greens do better with indirect sun.
  • Tomatoes – Of course we couldn’t do a container gardening story without talking about tomatoes. You’ll want a larger container (Those five-gallon pickle buckets are perfect) and consider cherry tomatoes. These do great in containers and many of the newer “monster” cherry tomatoes are very flavorful. Sun gold cherry tomatoes are one variety that produces a beautiful orange veggie that will add a splash of summer color to your patio or deck. Tomatoes’ root systems are dense and aggressive, so stick to one plant per bucket.  Invest in round, metal trellises that will let the plants climb and stay healthy, plus the trellises can be reused for the next growing season. Other larger tomato varieties such as Beefsteak, Best Boy or Goliath (as the name implies, they’re massive) are best left free range – they will quickly become root-bound in containers and not produce. Sun Needs – Tomatoes love full sun.
  • Veggies – Green or yellow garden beans can be grown in containers, but the trick is to not over plant.  Three, maybe four plants per five-gallon bucket should do it. Put in a few stakes to let beans grow up strong toward the sun.  Bell peppers (green, gold or red) are not only delicious, but the plants are pretty. Two plants per bucket is the maximum.   Sun Needs – Full sun

Watering and fertilizer – less is much more

The most common mistake new and experienced gardeners make is over watering. Check with your finger-tip, about ½ inch into the soil…if it’s still damp, don’t water yet.  If it’s going to rain, hold off because that fresh water will invigorate your plants. While there are a lot of products on the market to improve yield, rather than using chemical fertilizer, it’s better to go organic using a good compost and natural fertilizer such as fish emulsion but, most importantly, find joy on the growing journey.

“Gardening is not a chore or a task to get done. It’s a way to put down the phone and unplug, slow down and reconnect with life… even it’s just taking a few minutes to check the plants,” said Laura. “Caring for something that also provides us with wonderful food recharges people and restores balance.”  

Not ready to start your own garden?  No problem. The Farm at St. Joe’s, our hospital-based farm located on the St. Joe’s Ann Arbor – and now St. Joe’s Oakland campus – has an option where people can enjoy the freshest produce through the St. Joe’s Farm Share in Oakland and Ann Arbor. Think of it as an affordable subscription for seasonal produce that also supports sustainable, local growers. As part of our commitment to fighting food insecurity, The Farm in Ann Arbor offers Farm Share assistance  and The Farm in Oakland also provides help for vulnerable community members to obtain fresh produce.  

If you are interested in donating or volunteering at The Farm, please see these opportunities: The Farm at St. Joe’s Ann Arbor and The Farm at St. Joe’s Oakland.

Browned Brussels Sprouts with Oregano Dressing 

Serves 4 as a side dish 

Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 8 minutes 

Many of us are familiar with oregano as an ingredient in Italian and Mexican cuisine; this simple recipe brings oregano’s warm, aromatic flavor to protein-rich Brussels Sprouts. The Oregano Dressing also goes well with grilled vegetables and cold pasta dishes. 

Ingredients: 

1 ½ -2 pounds fresh Brussels sprouts 

2 Tablespoons olive oil 

Salt 

For the dressing: 

¾ cup olive oil 

¼ cup fresh oregano, leaves removed from stems 

¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped 

1 large or 2 small cloves garlic 

¼ cup salt 

¼ cup sliced almonds, toasted   

Directions: 

Place olive oil, oregano, parsley, garlic and salt in a food processor or blender; pulse until herbs are finely chopped. Add more salt to taste as desired. 

Wash Brussels sprouts, trim stem ends, and cut in half lengthwise. Toss in a bowl with 1 Tablespoon olive oil to coat. 

Heat an additional Tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Place sprouts in the skillet cut side down, sprinkle with a couple of pinches of salt, cover and cook until sprouts begin to brown (about five minutes). Test sprouts for tenderness; keep covered and cook until desired tenderness is reached. Turn up heat and cook uncovered until sprouts are brown and caramelized; toss a couple of times with a spatula to cook round sides. 

Remove from heat and toss with Oregano Dressing to taste; add nuts and serve immediately. 

Stay Safe in the Water

Warmer days are on the way, and many families will be headed to the lake to enjoy fresh air, sun and fun. Sadly, it’s also the time when many people die in open water.

Last year, 109 people drowned in the Great Lakes, with 56 of those drownings occurring in Lake Michigan. While pool safety is more frequently discussed, most drownings occur in lakes, rivers, ponds and other open water. Young children are three times more likely to drown in open water, and teens are eight times more likely to die in open water drownings.

The following tips will help you stay safe in and around water this summer.  

Keep Kids Safe in and Around Water

  1. Constant Supervision. Watch kids when they are in or around water. Ensure that you are not distracted. Keep young children and inexperienced swimmers within arm’s reach of an adult. Make sure older children swim with a partner every time
  1. Make sure children learn how to swim. Every child is different, so enroll children in swim lessons when they are ready. Consider their age, development, and how often they are around water when deciding if they are ready.
  1. Make sure kids learn these five water survival skills and can independently:
  1. Step or jump into water over their head and return to the surface;
  2. Turn around and orient to safety;
  3. Float or tread water;
  4. Combine breathing with forward movement in the water, and
  5. Exit the water.
  1. Teach children that swimming in open water is different from swimming in a pool. Be aware of unique situations in open water, such as limited visibility, depth, uneven surfaces and currents. These potential hazards can make swimming in open water more challenging than swimming in a pool.
  1. Wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket when boating or participating in other recreational activities in or around water. Be sure to select a life jacket appropriate for age, weight and the water activity. Some communities, including Muskegon, offer life jacket loaner programs at public beaches and marinas. 
  1. Use designated swimming areas whenever possible. Professionals have assessed the area, and there are usually signs posted regarding hazards and lifeguard schedules. 

Know the Hidden Hazards

Swimming in lakes, rivers, ponds and other open water poses hazards you won’t find in a swimming pool. Staying aware of such risks as uneven surfaces, dangerous currents, cold temperatures and more will keep you and your family enjoying beach days safely.

You can learn more about water safety at the Great Lakes Water Safety Consortium

Regular Health Screenings Can Help Keep Men Well

Balancing a busy career, family and personal life can leave men with little time to even think about their health, let alone schedule (and keep) an appointment for their annual health screenings.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), regular exams and screenings can help save lives. They can help find problems early, when the chances for treatment, and perhaps even a cure, are better.

That’s why, during Men’s Health Month, St. Joe’s would like to encourage you to care for yourself — and the men in your life — by reminding you of the importance of regular health screenings.

Erectile dysfunction (ED) and prostate problems are unique to men. According to the National Institutes of Health, as many as 30 million American men have ED, and benign prostatic hyperplasia is the most common prostate problem for men older than age 50.

Some health issues occur more commonly in men than in women, such as coronary heart disease, lung cancer, HIV infection, and Parkinson’s disease.

The National Institutes of Health lists the tests and screenings that experts recommend for men at various stages of their lives:

Common Health Screenings and Physical Exams for Men Ages 18-39

  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Dental Exam
  • Eye Exam
  • Vaccines
  • Infectious Disease Screenings
  • Testicular
  • Skin self-exam

Common Health Screenings and Physical Exams for Men Ages 40-64

In addition to those above, this age group should have the following:

  • Colorectal Cancer
  • Lung Cancer
  • Prostate Cancer
  • Osteoporosis
  • Skin

Common Health Screenings and Physical Exams for Men Ages 65 and Older

In addition to those above, this age group should have the following:

  • Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (especially for patients who have been smokers)
  • Hearing

Federal law requires that all health insurance plans cover specific preventive care services, including vaccinations, some disease screenings and certain types of counseling. In addition to participating in annual screenings, having a primary care physician (PCP) who can coordinate your care is vital to your good health.

A PCP typically specializes in family medicine, internal medicine or general practice. If you don’t have a PCP, it’s easy to find one. Just visit your insurance carrier’s website, look for the “find a doctor” area and follow the instructions.

St. Joe’s is committed to providing resources that promote well-being though body, mind and spirit and is dedicated to helping you live a healthy life.

Find a St. Joe’s Doctor

St. Joe’s Oakland Partners with Community Organizations to Provide Vaccine Access to Vulnerable Populations

OAKLAND – A key challenge in distributing COVID-19 vaccines is ensuring that the most vulnerable in our community have adequate access. Some may be interested in the vaccine, but do not have transportation to a clinic. Others simply do not know how to sign up for the vaccine, or do not have a computer to search for appointments.

To help reach these vulnerable populations, St. Joseph Mercy Oakland has partnered with several community organizations, including Lighthouse Oakland County, Forgotten Harvest, Freedom Road Transportation, and Faith Community Nursing.

On April 5, 2021, St. Joe’s Oakland hosted a COVID-19 vaccine clinic for vulnerable populations, and distributed nonperishable food from Forgotten Harvest to participants. SJMO’s Community Health and Wellbeing team was able to pre-register 95 individuals. SJMO also partnered with Freedom Road Transportation to provide transportation at no cost to attendees.

“We serve seniors, people with disabilities, and low income populations,” said Karen Boice, Executive Director of Freedom Road Transportation.  “These are people that have no access to public transportation or are unable to use it.  Our program is provided at no cost.  It’s important because people who are isolated, disabled or senior need access to transportation so that they can be social, access basic needs and stay healthy.”

SJMO held a second vaccine clinic on May 3 at Mercy Place.  Again, participants received a free box of non-perishable food and transportation assistance as needed.  Roughly 55 individuals were served at this clinic with a high turnout from the local Hispanic community.  Second dose vaccines of Moderna were distributed June 2 at Mercy Place Clinic.  St. Joe’s Oakland is now also accepting walk-ins for COVID-19 vaccines from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on days the clinic is open.

Helping vulnerable populations get access to vaccines is crucial, as these groups face higher risks of complications or death if they contract COVID-19.  St. Joe’s Oakland is proud to work with local partners to help address the needs of the most vulnerable in our community, and is excited to continue these efforts.

As summer heats up, St. Joe’s trauma expert weighs in on the importance of bicycle safety

Alicia Kieninger, MD

Did you know that May is National Trauma Awareness Month?  Alicia Kieninger, MD, Medical Director of Trauma Services at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland, used the occasion to help inform and educate the public by answering a few common questions children and their parents have regarding bicycle safety, a common cause of traumatic injury amongst pediatric patients.

Q: What are common injuries you see among children in bicycle accidents?

A: While bicycles are a common part of outdoor fun during the summer months, it is important to be aware of common bicycle related injuries in order to protect children.  In addition to head injuries and broken bones, bicycles can also be associated with more subtle intra-abdominal injuries in children.  Handle bar injures can occur when a child rapidly decelerates and is thrown forward over the bicycle handle bars.  This situation can lead to subtle injuries to organs such as the small intestine or pancreas, which do not demonstrate significant signs of injury right away.  If your child suffers this type of bicycle injury, it is important to have them evaluated right away to rule out more serious injuries.

Q: What protections do helmets provide children?

A: Helmets go a long way to protect your child’s skull and brain from potential life threatening injuries.  However, in addition to protecting your child from the impact of a collision, bike helmets actually make the rider more visible to vehicles, which may help prevent accidents form occurring.

Q: Other than a helmet, what other precautions should parents or a child consider to ensure a fun, safe ride?

A: Make sure your child is properly supervised when riding their bike.  In particular, be aware that newer bike riders may be more prone to accidents.  It is important that their bicycle be appropriately sized for the child, and the seat be adjusted to the proper height.  Wear sturdy closed toed shoes with backs on them that are not likely to fall off or become encumbered, and avoid long or loose fitting clothing.  Make sure their helmet fits correctly and that they know how to put it on properly.  Encourage them to ride on the sidewalk if possible.  Wear bright, visible clothing that will make them more visible to motorists, and make sure to have lights available when riding at dusk.

Q: Is there anything else about bike helmets or bike safety that is important for parents and their children to know?

A: Your children learn from your actions.  If you model the safety behaviors you want your child to use, they will be more likely to follow them.  Most of all have fun!

For additional information, please visit: Bike | Safe Kids Worldwide

Sesame Garlic Tofu

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 block extra firm tofu
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons sesame seeds

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. To drain extra water out of the tofu, wrap it in a cloth or paper towel and place on a cutting board. Put a plate on top of the tofu and weigh it down with a can. Press down on the plate for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove the weight and cloth/paper towel. Slice the tofu into 2 inch cubes.
  4. In a bowl, add the soy sauce, ginger, garlic powder, maple syrup, and sesame seeds. Mix together to make the marinade.
  5. Submerge the tofu cubes in the marinade and let sit for at least 10 minutes.
  6. Place cubes on skewers and lay on a cookie sheet.
  7. Bake for 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Ready to take the next step?

Our Lifestyle Medicine team is here to support you on your journey to better health. Connect with one of our Board-Certified Lifestyle Medicine Specialists today.

Thai Coconut Curry

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups chopped green cabbage
  • 1 cup chopped egg plant
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 – 16 ounce can chickpeas, drained
  • 1 – 13 ounce can lite coconut milk
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 4 tablespoons cilantro (optional)
  • 1 lime (optional)

Directions

  1. Wash and lay out all ingredients.
  2. Dice the garlic and set on the cutting board for 10 minutes.
  3. Dice the bell pepper and eggplant into 1 inch cubes.
  4. Slice the cabbage into 1 inch pieces.
  5. Add all the vegetables to the pot and sauté in a bit of broth.
  6. Add the chickpeas, drained and rinsed.
  7. Finally, add the coconut milk and broth with the curry paste.
  8. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes.
  9. Serve over brown rice or soba noodles.

Chef’s Tip: Add a lime wedge and cilantro as a garnish when serving to help brighten the dish. Other garnish options include ginger and lemongrass.

Ready to take the next step?

Our Lifestyle Medicine team is here to support you on your journey to better health. Connect with one of our Board-Certified Lifestyle Medicine Specialists today.

Buffalo Cauliflower

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ cup plant milk
  • ¼ cup hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

  1. Wash and lay out all ingredients. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Cut cauliflower into bite sized florets.
  3. Make batter by adding flour, spices, milk, and hot sauce into a mixing bowl. Stir until combined.
  4. Using a fork, dip the florets into the bowl and place on greased cookie tray.
  5. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until fork soft.
  6. Finish by adding more spices or hot sauce to taste.

Ready to take the next step?

Our Lifestyle Medicine team is here to support you on your journey to better health. Connect with one of our Board-Certified Lifestyle Medicine Specialists today.