JCVI classifies pregnant women as at-risk group for Covid vaccination programme

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In October, one in six Covid patients requiring the highest form of life-saving care were unvaccinated pregnant women (AFP via Getty)
In October, one in six Covid patients requiring the highest form of life-saving care were unvaccinated pregnant women (AFP via Getty)

Pregnant women are to be classified as a clinically at-risk group within the UK’s vaccination programme, as officials warned that expectant mothers infected with Covid are more vulnerable to serious illness and birth complications.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) have urged pregnant women to come forward and get vaccinated “without delay” amid evidence that suggests they are at increased risk of serious consequences from Covid-19.

Data released in October showed that one in six Covid patients requiring the NHS’s highest form of life-saving care were unvaccinated pregnant women.

Given that the majority of pregnant women who continue to be admitted to hospital with severe Covid are unvaccinated, the key priority is to accelerate the rollout of jabs among this group, the JCVI said.

“Women who are pregnant are strongly encouraged to have a first, second or booster vaccine dose as appropriate in order to better protect yourself and your baby from any serious consequences from Covid-19,” said Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of JCVI Covid-19 immunisation.

“There is no evidence to suggest that Covid-19 vaccines used in pregnancy increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirths, congenital abnormalities or birth complications.”

Pregnant women have among the lowest vaccination rates in the UK. Data from Public Health Scotland showed that only 15 per cent of women who gave birth in August were fully vaccinated. In England, 22 per cent had received a single dose at this time. For Wales, this figure stood at 18 per cent.

Marked variation in vaccine coverage has also been observed between women from different socio-economic groups and ethnic backgrounds, the UKHSA said.

Separate data published from the University of Oxford show pregnant women with Covid are up to three times more likely than others to have a premature baby.

A total of 694 premature babies were born to Covid-positive mothers between March 2020 and July this year. Of these, 604 babies had to be admitted to neonatal critical care.

Clinical outcomes following Covid infection in pregnant women have also worsened over the course of the pandemic, research shows. Of those hospitalised with the virus, more are now being admitted to ICU – 7.9 per cent in the first wave, compared to 16 per cent in the third wave.

In light of the heightened risk posed by Covid to pregnant women and their children, the JCVI said they should be considered a clinical risk group within the UK’s vaccination programme.

Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, from UKHSA, said: “The serious risks posed to women who become infected with Covid-19 during pregnancy have become increasingly clear.

“We know that the vaccines used in the UK Covid-19 vaccination programme have been highly effective in preventing serious complications and those recommended for pregnant women have a good safety record.

“I would urge all pregnant women to come forward and get their vaccine without delay. This is the best way to protect you and your baby.”

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