Family of pregnant woman who died of COVID say she was wary of getting vaccine

Osnat Ben Shitrit’s brother-in-law admits he started large online anti-vaxxer group, remains cautious of shots; sisters say expecting mother feared inoculation while carrying baby

Osnat Ben Shitrit (Instagram)
Osnat Ben Shitrit (Instagram)

A pregnant woman who died overnight Saturday of COVID-19 did not get herself vaccinated against the disease because she feared it might endanger her fetus, which also died.

Speaking to media on Sunday, Osnat Ben Shitrit’s mother and sisters urged people to get the vaccine shots, while her brother-in-law, who admitted to being behind an anti-vaccination social media group, remained wary of immunization.

Ronit Sianni said that her daughter had wanted to be vaccinated, but was concerned about its safety for pregnant women. Health officials in recent weeks have urged pregnant women to get vaccinated over fears they are at greater risk from new strains of the virus than they were with the original.

“Go and get vaccinated, don’t wait,” Sianni said to Channel 13. “It is not a game. It is a matter of life and death.”

Ben Shitrit, 32, a mother of four, died at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem. Doctors were unable to save her 30-week fetus in an emergency C-section. The fetus had been not infected with the virus, but was delivered in critical condition and did not survive, Hadassah said.

Osnat Ben Shitrit. (Instagram)

Ben Shitrit’s brother-in-law told the Kan public broadcaster that he had set up an anti-vaccination Facebook group that swelled to thousands of members, and that he is still a member of several other groups.

Screen capture from video of Osnat Ben Shitrit’s brother-in-law speaking to media. (Twitter)

The man, who was not identified in the report, said that following Ben Shitrit’s death he suspended his own group, but remains in the others.

“When it arrives in your backyard you understand the need to think differently. Now we understand the cost of the coronavirus,” he said, but remained cautious of advising to get the immunization shots.

The national vaccination campaign is “coercive,” he said, apparently referring to government plans to restrict the participation in some aspects of public life for those who have not been vaccinated or have not recovered from the disease.

“I am not saying run out and get vaccinated because you need to do it, but simply, if you want to prevent death in your home, you have the ability, you have the option to be vaccinated,” the man said.

He advised people to first get other tests done to determine if they already have antibodies that could have been produced during asymptomatic infection with the virus.

Ben Shitrit’s two sisters told the station that the expectant mother had been in serious condition for a few days, but refused to be hospitalized.

The sisters said that by the time Ben Shitrit reached the hospital she was already in critical condition. Echoing their mother, they called on the public to be vaccinated.

Ben Shitrit was healthy until she recently contracted the coronavirus, and previously had four smooth pregnancies that ended in straightforward births, a spokeswoman for Hadassah Medical Center told The Times of Israel.

A resident of the Jerusalem area, Ben Shitrit was admitted to the hospital last Tuesday due to respiratory distress, and started deteriorating rapidly on Saturday night. Doctors noticed damage to several of her organs, and a large team, including cardiology and gynecology experts, was assembled by her bedside.

According to a Hadassah statement, medics made “very prolonged” resuscitation attempts and performed an emergency caesarian section. But the mother died, and “despite tremendous efforts to save the fetus’s life in the preterm intensive care unit,” it did not survive.

Ben Shitrit was laid to rest on Sunday afternoon in Jerusalem.

News of her death reverberated across the Israeli healthcare system, with doctors warning that it illustrates the increased danger that the so-called British variant, which now accounts for almost all Israeli COVID cases, holds for pregnant women and fetuses.

While concern related to the British strain lately focused on its transmissibility, not virulence, it is believed to impact pregnant women worse than the regular strain does. Last month, as the British variant spread, Israel approved vaccines for pregnant women and started encouraging women to get the shots.

There are currently 50 expectant or new mothers with COVID-19 in the country’s hospitals, of whom 19 are in serious condition and eight are considered critical, according to Hebrew media reports.

The Health Ministry has reportedly set up a special task force that works full-time searching for viral fake news that could potentially cause damage to Israel’s coronavirus vaccination drive.

Some Israeli anti-vaxxer Facebook groups have been taken down, reportedly following requests from the Health Ministry.

As of Sunday over 4.3 million citizens have had at least the first dose of the two-shot Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine Israel is using in its mass immunization drive, representing nearly half of the population. Over 2.9 million have also had the second, according to Health Ministry figures.

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