People who are pregnant will no longer have to wait until after the birth of their baby to have the Covid-19 jab.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that all pregnant people should be offered the Covid-19 vaccine at the same time as the rest of the population, based on their age and clinical risk group.
It said it’s preferable for those who are pregnant in the UK to be offered the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines where available. JCVI said there’s no evidence to suggest other vaccines are unsafe for pregnant women, but more research is needed.
The announcement brings the UK into line with the US and other countries who have been offering the Covid-19 vaccine to pregnant people since December.
Originally, only a small number of people were able to have the jab in pregnancy in the UK: those considered high risk, either because of an underlying health condition or their job (for example, being a frontline worker).
This was because there was “insufficient evidence” to recommend routine use of Covid-19 vaccines during pregnancy, JCVI said.
Why has the advice changed?
Pregnant women were not initially involved in Covid-19 vaccine trials, which has meant this group has been one of the last to get the green light for vaccination. Clinical trials by vaccine manufacturers looking at the safety and how well the vaccines work are underway or planned.
Due to the vaccine being optional for pregnant people in the US, researchers have been able to monitor their progress since having the jab – and after giving birth. New evidence has emerged from the US that the mRNA vaccines, such as the Moderna and Pfizer jabs, are protective in pregnancy – with newborn babies also developing antibodies from them.
Real-world data show that around 90,000 pregnant women have been vaccinated in the US, mainly with mRNA vaccines including the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna jabs, without any safety concerns being raised.
In one study, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Ragon Institute demonstrated the mRNA vaccines are not just effective in protecting pregnant women, but they pass on protective immunity to newborn babies through breastmilk and the placenta.
Why the jab could be important in pregnancy
You don’t want to get coronavirus if you’re pregnant – particularly later on in your pregnancy – and having the vaccine could prevent that.
Research led by the University of Birmingham and the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests the risk of pregnant women being admitted to intensive care or needing ventilation is higher than non-pregnant reproductive-aged people with the virus.
You are also at increased risk of severe Covid-19 if you’re pregnant and from ethnic minority backgrounds, or if you have pre-existing conditions like obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Dr Allyah Abbas-Hanif, member of the Paediatrics and Pregnancy Expert Group of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine, said: “In pregnant women hospitalised with Covid, outcomes are worse than for non-pregnant women with the disease, including a higher risk of death. There is also evidence pregnant women with Covid have higher rates of ICU admission.”
Professor Marian Knight, an expert in maternal and child population health at the University of Oxford, said over the last year, more than 5,000 pregnant women admitted to hospital have been diagnosed with Covid-19 and around one in 10 pregnant women admitted with symptomatic Covid-19 has needed intensive care. Around one in five have had a premature birth as a consequence.
“Most pregnant women recover, but sadly around one in 200 admitted to hospital with Covid-19 has died,” she added.
The JCVI said there were “no specific safety concerns” identified with “any brand of Covid-19 vaccines” in relation to pregnancy.
When will you be called up for the jab if you’re pregnant?
If you’re pregnant, you will be called up for the jab as and when either your age group or clinical risk group is called up.
If that’s already happened, speak to your GP or midwife about having the jab – and take the opportunity to ask them any questions you might have about it. Alternatively, book a vaccination appointment online.
The JCVI still advises pregnant people to discuss the risks and benefits of being vaccinated with their clinician before they get the jab.
It’s worth noting that because the vaccines are new still, there’s limited data on the safety of them in pregnancy, but also long-term.
The CDC in the US recommends some things you might want to discuss with your healthcare provider prior to having the vaccine. These include:
- How likely you are to be exposed to Covid-19
- The risks of Covid-19 to you and the potential risks to your foetus
- What is known about the vaccine:
- how well it works to develop protection in the body
- known side effects
- and the limited data on the safety of Covid-19 during pregnancy, because it was not studied among pregnant people.