Pregnant women who didn’t have the coronavirus vaccine make up a large proportion of the people in intensive care in Bristol’s hospitals after contracting the virus in the latter stages of their pregnancy.
Now, concerned public health officials have launched a special campaign to make sure women who are pregnant do go and get the Covid jab.
In the earlier stages of the coronavirus vaccination programme, before it had been rolled out to younger women in great numbers, pregnant women were advised to talk to their GP first about getting the jab.
But that message of caution and hesitancy has led to low numbers of mums-to-be getting the jab in the past few months – and the effects are now being felt in hospitals across Bristol and the South West.
Both the local NHS bosses and Public Health England said that the experience gained from the mass vaccination programme has shown them two things – that not only are the vaccines safe for pregnant women, but that coronavirus is a lot more serious for women in pregnancy than it would be for other women their age.
Dr Geeta Iyer, the lead clinician for the vaccination programme in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire, has confirmed that many of the patients with coronavirus who end up seriously ill in Bristol’s hospitals are pregnant women who are stricken with the virus in the last ten weeks or so of pregnancy. At that point of a pregnancy, women’s immune systems are generally weakened, so a serious illness like coronavirus hits harder.
A disproportionate number of the intensive care patients in Bristol with coronavirus are pregnant women, Dr Iyer said – something backed up by Dr Julie Yates, the consultant and immunisation lead for Public Health England in the South West.
Covid in women over 30 weeks into their pregnancy is leading to emergency C-sections and babies being born prematurely and also needing intensive neonatal care, Dr Iyer said.
“We are particularly concerned about vaccinating women in pregnancy,” Dr Iyer, told Bristol Live.
“There is low vaccine take up and we do have women in ICU in Bristol who haven’t been vaccinated and have contracted covid in the latter stages of pregnancy. This is in Bristol and nationally. We don’t want to be alarmist or scare anyone about this, but this is the situation.
“Women don’t need to be worried about the safety concerns,” she added. “It’s quite understandable that pregnant women are concerned, and in the early stages of the vaccination programme, the advice was to consult with your GP or midwife, but now there is plenty of data on this – millions of women around the world have been vaccinated against Covid, and there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the vaccine is not safe for pregnant women.
Dr Julie Yates said the issue was of concern right across the South West region.
“One of the groups within the population that we are particularly concerned about, and who are almost entirely all of the cases that are in hospital who are unvaccinated, are pregnant women,” she said.
“And so we particularly want to encourage pregnant women to be vaccinated. This is in order to protect them, to protect their unborn baby and to prevent them from requiring intensive care, because pregnant women are not more likely to acquire a COVID infection, but if they do, they are more likely to become unwell and they are more likely to require intensive care treatment,” she explained.
“There is also a much higher risk of complications and stillbirth in pregnant women, so there are lots of reasons to encourage them to have the vaccine. And obviously, those consequences are devastating for these members of our population, so we want to protect them.
“The data that we have on vaccine safety is that there are no immediate safety concerns in relation to vaccinating pregnant women. The uncertainty at the beginning was just because they weren’t included in trials. But we have lots of evidence now from worldwide data in relation to the safety, so if there is one message, it’s that pregnant women should be vaccinated because that’s a group that is very under-represented within our vaccinated cohorts,” she added.