Pregnant women should be regarded as a clinical risk group for Covid-19 and be given vaccines quickly, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has said.
The expert team advising the Government said there was “growing evidence showing that women who are pregnant are at increased risk of serious consequences from Covid-19”.
New data has been published showing that 34 women have died in the UK after acquiring Covid while pregnant.
Four newborn babies have also died where medics said the reason was Covid-19.
Studies suggest the death rate for pregnant women is usually about nine per 100,000 live births. This is the same as saying about 60 pregnant women a year die from any cause.
Up to the end of October this year, there were 27 Covid deaths in addition – an almost 50% rise on what would normally be expected for the year, according to analysis by the University of Oxford.
In a snapshot of cases, 1,436 pregnant women were admitted to hospital between May 16 and the end of October this year with symptoms of Covid-19, of which 230 ended up in intensive care.
More than 96% of these women were unvaccinated.
Just 16 women in hospital had had two vaccine doses, showing the powerful effect of vaccines.
The figures relate to before the Omicron variant of coronavirus took hold.
The JCVI urged all those who are unvaccinated to book their vaccines now, while women who have had two doses can get their booster if they had their second vaccine dose at least three months earlier.
Data from UKOSS and MBRRACE-UK suggests that clinical outcomes following Covid-19 in pregnant women have worsened over the course of the pandemic.
It found that more pregnant women with Covid-19 are experiencing more severe disease as the pandemic progresses, with more of those going to hospital being admitted to intensive care (7.9% in the first wave compared with 16% in the third wave).
Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of the JCVI, said: “There is no evidence to suggest that Covid-19 vaccines used in pregnancy increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirths, congenital abnormalities or birth complications.
“Having a UK-approved Covid-19 vaccine is safer than having Covid-19 itself.
“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.”
Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, from the UK Health Security Agency, 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.”
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and Royal College of Midwives published a joint statement saying the Government should ensure that there are no barriers of access to the vaccine, and should consider ways in which the system can prioritise pregnant women.
They said targets should be set to rapidly increase uptake of the vaccine in pregnant women and eliminate the disparities by ethnic group and socioeconomic status.
Gill Walton, chief executive of the RCM, said: “The RCM together with the RCOG and other organisations have been calling for pregnant women to be prioritised in the vaccination and booster programme.
“What is crucial now is that women are able to access vaccination hubs or clinics close to where they are receiving their maternity care.
“We are aware of reports of pregnant women waiting for hours in queues at walk-in centres or even when they have appointments and this is unacceptable.
“Providing clinics in or very near antenatal clinics, staffed by vaccination teams, is a great way to encourage uptake and will also ensure that midwives, already in short supply, aren’t taken away from their core work.
“It’s also vital that all vaccinators and vaccination centres are not only aware that pregnant women are recommended to be vaccinated and have the booster and pregnancy, but are trained in supporting them through the process too.”