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Pregnant women urged to get COVID vaccine as restrictions ease

Friday July 16th 2021

Pregnant women are at risk of developing COVID-19 due to a combination of COVID-19 restrictions easing from next week, an increase of COVID-19 cases and vaccine hesitancy, maternity experts have warned.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) are urging those who are pregnant or considering pregnancy and who have not yet been vaccinated to get the vaccine as soon as possible - and to book their second doses as soon as they are eligible.

The Colleges say pregnant women are at risk of getting severely ill with COVID-19, particularly in their third trimester, and new data from the UK Obstetric Surveillance System (UKOSS) has shown that one in 10 pregnant women admitted to hospital with the virus need intensive care.

However, no fully vaccinated pregnant women have been admitted to hospital in recent weeks, demonstrating the efficacy of the jab.

Recent studies have 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. It is also double the risk that baby will be born early.

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.

Dr Edward Morris, president at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: “We are concerned that increasing rates of COVID-19 infection will adversely impact pregnant women, due in part to our data showing 58% of women have declined the COVID-19 vaccine especially as we start to return to ‘normal’.

“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.

“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.

“We do understand women’s concerns about having the vaccine in pregnancy, as the messaging for this group has evolved since the COVID-19 vaccines were first licensed. However, we have robust data from the US where more than 120,000 people have had the vaccine in pregnancy and no safety concerns have been raised.”

Professor Marian Knight, professor of maternal and child population health at the University of Oxford and chief investigator of the UKOSS national study of pregnant women admitted to hospital with COVID-19 said more than 100 pregnant women have been admitted to hospital in each of the last two weeks with the virus.

However, no pregnant women who have received both doses of vaccine have been admitted to hospital since the vaccination programme began.

“Most of those admitted recently have been unvaccinated, with only five women admitted who had received a single vaccine dose,” he said. “I would urge women and health professionals to follow the RCOG/RCM guidance and discuss taking up the offer of a vaccine.”

Gill Walton, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, urged pregnant women to speak to their midwife or doctor about the vaccine.

“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,” she said.

Dr Sarah McMullen, director of impact and engagement at the National Childbirth Trus, echoed the worries, saying pregnant women should be prioritised as a clinically vulnerable group.

“We are extremely concerned that rising COVID-19 rates and the lifting of UK restrictions (in England next week and other nations over the summer) could lead to pregnant women, many of whom are unvaccinated, becoming ill,” she said.

“It is understandable that pregnant women have questions and hesitations about vaccinations and we’ve been really frustrated to hear of so much misinformation and, in many cases, a lack of support for informed decision-making.

“Pregnant women should be prioritised as a clinically vulnerable group with investment in direct campaigns to help reliable information reach more people. This should include clear, updated guidance for pregnant women on mitigating the risks of COVID-19 in their daily lives over the coming months.”

Tags: Childbirth and Pregnancy | Flu & Viruses | NHS | UK News | Women's Health & Gynaecology

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