Unlocking Will Create 'Perfect Storm' For Pregnant Women

Pregnant women are being urged to consider the vaccine as July 19 approaches.

England’s unlocking could cause the “perfect storm” for pregnant women, doctors and midwives have urged, particularly as vaccine take-up among pregnant women is low.

Over half of pregnant women (58%) have declined the Covid-19 vaccination, according to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM). The groups blame “mixed messages” about the vaccine and pregnancy earlier in the pandemic, but say vaccination is “the best way to protect against the known risks of Covid-19 in pregnancy for both mother and baby”.

Pregnant women are at risk of getting severely ill with Covid-19, particularly in their third trimester, with new data from the UK Obstetric Surveillance System (UKOSS) showing that one in 10 pregnant women admitted to hospital with symptoms of Covid need intensive care.

Those with symptoms of Covid are also twice as likely to have their baby early, with the accompanying risks of prematurity. Recent studies have also found that pregnant women who tested positive for Covid-19 at the time of birth were more likely to develop pre-eclampsia, need an emergency caesarean and had higher rates of stillbirth; however, the actual increases remain low.

With a rise in Covid cases across the UK, national data suggests the numbers of pregnant women being admitted per week are now more than three times greater than they were at the end of May.

“More than 100 pregnant women have been admitted to hospital in each of the last two weeks with Covid-19,” said Professor Marian Knight, from the University of Oxford, who is leading a study about pregnant women admitted to hospital with Coronavirus.

Doctors and midwives are now urging those who are pregnant or considering pregnancy and haven’t yet been vaccinated to seriously consider getting the vaccine as soon as possible, and to book their second doses as soon as they are eligible.

Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated pregnant women should take steps to avoid Covid-19 infection, by continuing to practise social distancing, particularly in their third trimester, they add.

Everyone can help pregnant women stay safe by wearing face coverings in indoor spaces, taking tests as appropriate and self-isolating when required.

“We know that those who are pregnant with Covid-19 are at an increased risk of becoming severely ill, particularly in their third trimester, and the vaccine is the safest and most effective way of protecting women and their babies,” said Dr Edward Morris, president at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

“From the numbers of pregnant women admitted into intensive care with Covid-19 over the past few weeks, it is clear that the risk is reduced for those who have received the vaccine particularly if they have had two vaccinations.”

Dr Morris said it is understandable that pregnant women may have concerns around the vaccine, but the “messaging for this group has evolved” since the vaccines were first licensed.

“We have robust data from the US where more than 130,000 people have had the vaccine in pregnancy and no safety concerns have been raised,” he added.

“We recognise there were mixed messages about the vaccine in pregnancy at the beginning but want to reassure women that healthcare professionals are there to support you in making an informed choice about having the Covid-19 vaccine and will be able to discuss the benefits and risks with you.”

Gill Walton, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, called vaccination “a vital tool in the fight to protect yourself against this virus”. “If you are unsure or worried about this, do speak to your midwife or doctor to get the facts so that you can make an informed decision,” she added.

“All the evidence is showing that having the Covid-19 jab is safe during pregnancy, and I do urge you to have the vaccine to protect yourself, your baby and your family.”

Walton and Dr Morris also urged healthcare professionals to read the most up-to-date information on the vaccine for pregnant women, to best help their patients.