A new study says it is crucial that pregnant and breastfeeding women receive both doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines in order to be fully vaccinated.

Researchers at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Pennsylvania gave the vaccines to 84 pregnant women, 31 breastfeeding mothers and 16 non-pregnant women of roughly the same ages. They discovered that pregnant and breastfeeding women had developed fewer antibodies three to four weeks after the first shot compared to non-pregnant women.

The two groups of women eventually developed as many antibodies as the non-pregnant women after receiving the second shot, according to the study, published this month in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Pregnant women are particularly susceptible to serious illnesses like COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, because their immune systems are modified to tolerate the fetus.

In other developments, the World Health Organization says Europe is the only major region in the world to post an increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths over the past week

The U.N. health agency recorded 1.6 million new cases and 21,000 deaths within the region during the seven-day period. This marks an increase of 18 percent and 14 percent, respectively. Officials say a variety of factors are to blame for the rise in new infections, including low rates of vaccination in some eastern European countries.

The United States recorded nearly 513,000 new COVID-19 cases during the same period, the largest of any individual nation, although it was a 12 percent decrease from the previous week, and more than 11,600 deaths. The United Kingdom had the second highest number of new cases with 330,465, an increase of 16 percent, with Russia posting 248,956, a rise of 15 percent.

The WHO said the biggest declines in recorded new COVID-19 cases occurred in the African region, which was down 21 percent, followed by a 17 percent drop in the western Pacific region.

In a related development, the Pan American Health Organization says overall COVID-19 cases and deaths have fallen to their lowest levels in more than a year across much of North, Central and South America.

According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, more than 245 million people around the globe have tested positive, including more than 4.9 million deaths. The United States leads both categories with 45.7 million confirmed infections and 741,242 deaths.

India is second in the number of infections with 34.2 million confirmed cases, followed by Brazil with 21.7 million. Brazil is second in COVID-19 deaths with 606,679, followed by India with 456,386.

Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse).

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