As an obstetrician, I know first-hand the highs and lows that women experience when having a baby. It can be hugely rewarding for many and a daunting experience for some. Over the past months, the pandemic has added a great deal of uncertainty to the experience of pregnant women and those considering becoming parents.
We know how dangerous the virus can be for pregnant women. The data published over recent months has been heartbreaking. Between July and October in England, one in five Covid patients receiving NHS treatment through a special lung-bypass machine were pregnant women who had not had their first jab. Around one in five women who are hospitalised with the virus need to be delivered preterm to help them recover – and one in five of their babies need care in the neonatal unit. New data from England shows that of those pregnant women in hospital with Covid, 98% are unvaccinated.
Senior doctors and healthcare professionals from across the health system, including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives, have been clear that the Covid vaccines are the best possible way pregnant women can protect themselves from the virus. Real-world data from the United States, where the vaccines have been given to more than 177,000 pregnant women, has also been reassuring that they’re safe for this group.
Now, we have even more evidence to back the safety of the vaccines – with new data from the UK Health Security Agency showing there is no impact on newborns. The rate of stillbirths, low baby-birth weights and premature births is very similar for vaccinated women as it is for all women.
It’s also incredibly reassuring to see the proportion of women giving birth who had received the vaccine increasing steadily over time – from 3% in May to 22% in August. Given that most pregnant women would have become eligible for the vaccine around June, in line with advice from our independent experts, this shows that more and more pregnant women are taking up the offer. Vaccine coverage at birth is expected to increase even further over the coming months. Boosters are also available six months after a second dose to pregnant women who are aged 40 and over, are health or social care workers or are in an at-risk group.
We know there is more to be done, though – particularly to make sure that we reach pregnant women from all ethnic groups and from all backgrounds, as vaccine uptake varies by ethnicity and deprivation area. The government and the NHS are continuing to work closely with experts from medical organisations and community and faith leaders to provide information and advice at every possible opportunity to those in these groups, as well as pregnant women more widely. Every contact counts between a pregnant women and a healthcare professional. This new data on pregnancy outcomes provides important information to help pregnant women feel more confident about having the vaccine.
The message I want to give is this: if you’re thinking about pregnancy, already pregnant, a new mother, or know someone who is pregnant or concerned about fertility, get your vaccine and stay safe.