Pregnant women should be fast-tracked for Covid vaccines, leading expert says in surprise U-turn
Pregnant women should be fast-tracked for Covid jabs because the disease greatly increases the risk of health problems for mums-to-be, a leading medic has said.
A study led by a top Oxford expert found that the virus raises the risk of serious maternal complications by more than 50 per cent, including a fivefold risk of mothers needing intensive care.
It doubles the risk of premature birth and newborn illness and also significantly raises the chance of the mother dying, according to a study of more than 2,000 expectant women.
The call for pregnant women to be put at the front of the queue differs from guidelines by the UK’s vaccine advisers, who say mums-to-be should be offered a jab when other people their age get one.
A study led by a top Oxford expert found that the virus raises the risk of serious maternal complications by more than 50 per cent, including a fivefold risk of mothers needing intensive care (file photo)
Until now, only pregnant women with underlying health conditions or those with high risk of exposure to the virus were eligible.
The latest study was led by Oxford University’s professor of foetal medicine Aris Papageorghiou, who said: Fortunately, there were very few maternal deaths [in the study]; nevertheless, the risk of dying during pregnancy and in the postnatal period was over 20 times higher in women with Covid-19 than in the non-infected pregnant women.’
The findings show that of some 1,400 pregnant women without Covid, one died. But in 700 pregnant women with Covid, 11 died – with the majority said to be virus-related. Professor Papageorghiou added: ‘Our study unequivocally shows that women who are pregnant and become infected with Covid have much worse [health] outcomes than their counterparts not infected.’
He added: ‘What is often missed is that we are talking here about two individuals, the mother and the child. Covid in a pregnant woman increases complications that can lead to premature birth, which is the number one contributor to newborn death and long-term disability.’
His ‘personal opinion’ was that pregnant women should now be prioritised for Covid vaccination, given that older age groups have already received their first jab. He said: ‘I believe pregnant women should constitute a high-risk group by virtue of their pregnancy.’
In most areas the NHS is now vaccinating 45-to-49-year-olds. Health bosses insist they will not deviate from the plan of working down through five-year age bands, meaning most pregnant women will have to wait.
More than half of the UK’s total population has received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, figures show. NHS England data up to April 23 shows that of the 38,189,536 total doses given in England so far, 28,102,852 were first doses – a rise of 107,656 on the previous day
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘We are focused on saving lives and continue to follow the advice of the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), to vaccinate the most vulnerable first, based on age as the biggest factor determining mortality.’
But while Prof Papageorghiou thought the JCVI had ‘done a fantastic job overall’, he questioned the rationale in which age trumps most other considerations, even in the under-50s. He said: ‘In this population, those at risk due to coexisting conditions [like pregnancy] are much more at risk than their age-matched counterparts.’
Last week, the JCVI approved the use of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in pregnant women after data from almost 100,000 individuals injected with them in the US showed no safety concerns.