‘Pregnant women were let down by confusing Covid vaccine advice’

Written by on November 21, 2021

‘Pregnant women were let down by the government, the NHS and society’ claims BMA chief officer who had baby during pandemic. She says vaccine hesitancy among expectant people is ‘not their fault’ but down to mixed and confusing messaging.

Pregnant women who are hesitant about taking up the Covid-19 vaccine should not be blamed or criticised as they were “let down” by confusing and mixed messages which urgently need rectifying, a leading medic has revealed.

Stark figures show almost all expectant mothers admitted to hospital with coronavirus (98%) have not had the jabs.

According to reports between February and November this year, 1,714 pregnant women were admitted to hospital with Covid-19. Of these, 1,681 – 98 per cent – had not been vaccinated.

And recent research of intensive care has shown that nearly 20 per cent of the most critically ill Covid patients are pregnant women who have not been jabbed.

Some of these “preventable admissions” have led to the deaths of pregnant mums and their babies.

According to reports Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists were pushing for jabs to be made available at all antenatal clinics and pregnancy scans.

According to iNews Ivy-Rose Court died just nine-days-old last month after her mother contracted coronavirus during her pregnancy. The baby, who was born 14 weeks premature, also tested positive for Covid-19 a few days after birth. She is one of the youngest people to have died with the virus.

Her mum Katie Leeming, 22, of Kirkham, near Blackpool, told iNews she decided not to get vaccinated against Covid after speaking to other pregnant women as she felt there hadn’t been enough research into the impact of the vaccines during pregnancy.

Saiqa Parveen, 37, of Birmingham, died in intensive care on 1 November weeks after becoming ill with Covid while pregnant with her fifth child and never got the chance to hold her newborn daughter who was born by emergency Caesarean section. Her family told how she had been offered the jab but decided to put it off until after her baby was born.

Dr Latifa Patel, a senior paediatric registrar based in the North of England and a chief officer at the British Medical Association, says the messaging and communication around coronavirus vaccines in pregnancy has been very mixed and that there now needs to be a concerted effort to invest time, effort and money into getting the correct message out.

“These tragic cases should never have happened, not in a country where we have had such brilliant access to vaccines.” she said. “I am really sorry for the families involved, for the babies who have lost their mums and the mums who have lost their babies. It’s a tragedy.

“I feel pregnant women have been let down by society, the NHS and the government as not enough investment or thought was put into looking after and looking out for pregnant people.”

Dr Patel, who herself was pregnant during lockdown and the pandemic and now has a 10-month-old baby daughter, says she feels in a way, the government and the NHS “almost forgot about pregnant people” during the pandemic.

And when it comes to the coronavirus vaccines, she says there have been so many changes and a lack of communication, it has led to expectant parents seeking advice from other sources.

“It is natural for people to worry about the human life they are making inside them and something like a new vaccine in a global pandemic would make you anxious and that’s a normal reaction.

“What we didn’t have is targeted, free and open communication and that’s what we need now.

“It is all our responsibility to educate, inform and help pregnant people to make the right decision and the right decision is very much to have the vaccine.”

Wythenshawe Hospital; Junior doctor standing next to incubator, Latifah Patel, consent given

Dr Patel, who is interim chair of the representative body within the BMA, admits expectant mums were left out of the vaccine conversation – something she realised during her own pregnancy.

“Nobody has ever spoken to me about my Covid vaccine from a pregnant person point of view or a new mum who was breastfeeding point of view.” she said. “In pregnancy, no one mentioned the vaccine. My GP or midwife didn’t mention it and the government didn’t mention it. No one came up to me and said: ‘You’re pregnant, let’s talk about the vaccine.

“I’m lucky, I’m a professional working in the NHS and am a doctor. But I am thinking about those people who aren’t.”

Dr Patel highlights the confusing and changing chain of events regarding Covid vaccines and pregnant people. In November and December last year, when the vaccine came out for NHS workers, she received an invite, but was told she was excluded as she was pregnant.

Then in January/February this year, the advice changed saying pregnant women could have the vaccine – but only if they had signed permission from their obstetrician. However, if it’s an uncomplicated pregnancy, expectant mums don’t have an obstetrician.

In April this year, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advised all pregnant women should be offered the Covid-19 vaccine.

“I am coming at this as someone fairly versed with the system.” said Dr Patel. “I understand none of this is unreasonable and from a research perspective, you cannot carry out full research on vaccines in pregnant people, particularly during a pandemic.

“So we were collecting data by asking pregnant people who had the vaccine and retrospectively saying: ‘What happened to these people?’ and we now know the vaccine is safe in pregnancy.

“But for a layperson who is pregnant, they went from being told in November and December last year: ‘There is a sweet in front of you, but you can’t eat that sweet in any circumstances. It’s not for you.

“Then in January/February, they are told: ‘You can have that sweet. You just need someone else to put in writing that they are giving you permission to eat it.

“In April, they are told: ‘You can have the sweet. We just need you to sign you are happy to have it.

“And now pregnant people are being told: ‘Of course you can have the sweet. Just take the sweet.’ It’s no wonder pregnant women are confused.”

An NHS spokesperson told Mums Say Radio: “The NHS has advised midwifery staff to give pregnant women the information they need to make the right decision for them and their baby so if you are pregnant and have any concerns, please come forward and discuss them with a healthcare professional.

“Pregnant women can come forward at any time for the lifesaving Covid vaccine – they can make a booking through the national booking service online or by calling 119 anytime between 7am and 11pm seven days a week.”

A government spokesperson said: “We are doing everything we can to advise pregnant women that the Covid-19 vaccines are safe and it is vital all those eligible come forward as the jab is the best possible way they can protect themselves and their babies.

“We follow the expert advice of the independent JCVI, who updated their advice on the vaccination of pregnant women earlier this year following emerging robust safety data from the US.

“We continue to work closely with expert clinicians and stakeholders on providing advice and information at every possible opportunity to support these women in getting the jab.”

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