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Should you take the COVID vaccine if you’re pregnant?

Photo by Oleg Sergeichik on Unsplash
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Despite the number of daily cases falling in the UK over the past week, doctors are yet to see any reduction in the number of COVID patients admitted to hospital, writes Dr Richard Cree, an intensive care consultant at the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesborough. Cree has noted in his blog that 95% of all pregnant women who are admitted to hospital with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

Pregnant women with severe COVID pneumonitis are at greatly increased risk of stillbirth or premature delivery, according to Dr Cree, which is why he is urging all pregnant women to take up the offer of vaccination.

However, a lack of information or misinformation is likely at the heart of why many expecting parents have decided to not take up the vaccine. But with more expert information at their disposal could that soon change and just in time for the birth?

  • Health chiefs are encouraging more pregnant women to get their COVID-19 vaccine, as new data shows that 51,724 pregnant women in England have received at least one dose
  • The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are recommended for pregnant women in the UK because these vaccines have been given to over 130,000 pregnant women in the US and the data has not raised any safety concerns (Public Health England)
  • Women who are planning pregnancy, who are in the immediate postpartum period, or who are breastfeeding can be vaccinated with any vaccine, depending on their age and clinical risk group (Public Health England)

“Over the past month we have seen a surprising number of pregnant patients become unwell due to COVID-19 and require admission to hospital,” writes Cree on a blog called No More Surgeons.

“Pregnancy causes complicated changes to your immune system and we know that pregnancy increases the likelihood of developing serious complications following many viral infections, including COVID-19. Unfortunately, the vaccine uptake amongst pregnant women is not what it should be and so we are seeing more and more pregnant patients,” said Dr Cree.

He continued in his blog to say that most of the women that he and his colleagues have seen have only needed high-flow oxygen or CPAP and have managed to avoid ventilation.

“However, being critically ill when pregnant is far from desirable; anything that reduces a pregnant woman’s oxygen levels can reduce the baby’s oxygen levels too. In this situation, the baby may need to be delivered early to avoid disaster,” he said.

He provided an example:

“This week, one of our pregnant patients became so unwell that it was clear that there was no choice other than to deliver the baby. Our lady was sufficiently late on in her pregnancy that we did not have to worry too much about the risks of premature birth but this was obviously a very troubling situation.

“Fortunately, everything went well. The baby was delivered by emergency caesarean section with a minimum of fuss thanks to the combined efforts of the team of obstetricians, anaesthetists, midwives and nurses. Baby is doing fine and whilst Mum remains ventilated on the ICU, her condition is showing some signs of improvement.”

Gill Walton, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said of pregnant women taking the COVID vaccine:

It’s really encouraging that so many pregnant women have already come forward to the vaccine – particularly bearing in mind this figure doesn’t include the pregnant health and care workers or those who are clinically extremely vulnerable who would have received at least their first vaccine before 16 April. We’re all very aware of just how widely the virus is still circulating.

That’s why it’s so important for pregnant women to take up the vaccine. We are seeing increasing numbers of pregnant women being admitted to hospital with serious illness, almost all of whom are unvaccinated. Pregnant women are at greater risk of serious illness if they get COVID-19, and those with severe COVID-19 are twice as likely to experience a stillbirth and 3 times as likely to have a preterm baby. Getting the vaccine is the best way to keep you and your baby safe.

So often, we mark out pregnancy landmarks in weeks, what size the baby is at 12 weeks or 22. Now we have a new landmark – 8 weeks between the first jab and the second. If you have any concerns or any questions, speak to your midwife who will help you make the right decision for you and your baby.

Women who are planning pregnancy, who are in the immediate postpartum period, or who are breastfeeding can be vaccinated with any vaccine, depending on their age and clinical risk group, according to Public Health England.

It is understandable that most expecting parents are nervous about taking the vaccine during pregnancy. They are thinking of potential birth defects perhaps? Then on the other side of the coin, thinking about how the mother’s vaccination could protect her and baby during and after the birth. There’s a lot to consider.

Any expecting mother who is also self-employed will more than likely be concerned about supporting the family financially if she or the baby were to come down with COVID complications. However, the more expert medical information an expectant mother has, the more confident her decision making could be about taking the COVID vaccine during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

Do mRNA COVID vaccines provide immunity to newborns?

According to the largest study of its kind to date, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard have found the new mRNA COVID-19 vaccines to be highly effective in producing antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus in pregnant and lactating women. The study also demonstrated the vaccines confer protective immunity to newborns through breast milk and the placenta.

For more information on this subject The Conversation has recently published this article: Should pregnant women have a COVID vaccine? The evidence says it’s safe and effective. Please also find some links below.

Here is also a video account of a mother who did a pros and cons list to help her make her decision.

Vaccination is recommended in pregnancy, according to the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists, but the decision of whether to have the vaccine is your choice. You may find the following resources helpful:
Information leaflet and decision aid on COVID-19 vaccination in pregnancy
1) UK Teratology Information Service (UKTIS) monograph on non-live vaccination in pregnancy 
2) Public Health England information for women of childbearing age, currently pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breastfeeding

The information provided in this article is not of the opinion of The Freelance Informer. For medical advice, please refer to your GP, midwife or other medical practitioners.

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