The country's top doctors and medical experts are urging pregnant women to get their COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, as new data published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) today [November Thursday 25] provides further evidence that the vaccines are safe for this group.
The data shows the vaccines have good birth outcomes in vaccinated women who had their babies up to August this year - with no consistent differences between vaccinated women and all women in the figures for stillbirths, low baby birthweights and premature births.
This is in contrast to those who catch the virus, with unvaccinated women at far higher risk of contracting COVID-19. In August 2021, only 22% of women who gave birth were vaccinated.
Of those pregnant women in hospital with symptomatic COVID-19, 98% are unvaccinated, and no fully vaccinated pregnant women were admitted to intensive care with COVID-19 in England between February and the end of September 2021. Around one in five women who are hospitalized with the virus need to be delivered preterm to help them recover and one in five of their babies need care in the neonatal unit.
Around 84,000 pregnant women have had the jab in the UK and senior clinicians across the health system are therefore encouraging women to get the jab urgently to protect themselves and their babies from the virus.
Pregnant women aged 40 and over, who are health or social care workers or are in an at-risk group are now also eligible for booster vaccines, six months after their second dose.
Professor Lucy Chappell, DHSC's Chief Scientific Adviser and Honorary Consultant Obstetrician, said:
This pandemic has created a lot of fear and uncertainty for those who are thinking about pregnancy or expecting a baby, with COVID-19 being very dangerous for pregnant women in particular.
It is therefore really important that they get their COVID-19 vaccine - which has now protected hundreds of thousands of pregnant women around the world.
Today's data are hugely reassuring and further shows the vaccines continue to be the best way pregnant women can keep themselves and their babies safe from this virus."
Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at UKHSA, said:
We already know that getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself from serious illness. If you haven't already been vaccinated, this new information should add to the reassuring safety data. Every pregnant woman who has not yet been vaccinated should feel confident to go and get the jab, and that this will help to prevent the serious consequences of catching COVID-19 in pregnancy.
This accumulating evidence will also allow midwives and other health professionals to provide better information to pregnant women and help to drive uptake higher.
Our figures also highlight stark inequalities in uptake with many of the most vulnerable women in our society going unvaccinated. It is vital that women of all backgrounds accept their offer of their vaccine in order to protect themselves."
Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and Deputy Lead for the NHS COVID-19 Vaccination Programme, said:
It is clear from the data that pregnant women are more likely to become very unwell if they catch COVID-19 - with one in five of the most critically ill coronavirus patients being unvaccinated expectant mothers.
This new and encouraging research shows there are no significant concerns about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy, so we will continue to advise midwives and clinicians to give expectant mums the information and support they need to make the right decision for them and their babies."
The vaccines are safe for pregnant women and have no impact on fertility, which has been made extremely clear by the government, its senior clinicians and a range of independent experts from stakeholder groups such as RCOG, RCM and the British Fertility Society.
The proportion of women who gave birth and were vaccinated during pregnancy has been steadily increasing since 16 April 2021, when the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advised all pregnant women should be offered two vaccine doses at the same time as the rest of the population, based on their age and clinical risk group.
This means the majority of women in this group would have had their vaccine from June, in line with their age cohort, and the figures are therefore expected to continue to increase in future publications.
The JCVI make decisions based on the latest available evidence and updated their advice following emerging robust safety data from the US. The original advice preceding this decision was for pregnant women to discuss vaccination with their clinician.
The figures also show uptake in the most deprived areas and for those from certain ethnic minority communities is lower than for other areas or ethnicities, but follows a similar pattern to the uptake figures for these groups in the general population. This includes 5.5% of black pregnant women and 7.8% of pregnant women from the most deprived areas being vaccinated.
The government is working closely with RCOG, RCM and other key stakeholders on engaging with women who are either pregnant or thinking about pregnancy and providing them with the latest advice and information at every possible opportunity. It's also working with faith and community leaders to increase vaccine uptake, holding regular meetings to discuss the best ways to provide information to their communities.
The Chief Midwifery Officer for England, Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, has also written to fellow midwives and GP practices across the country stressing the need to encourage pregnant women to get the jab.
Vaccines Minister Maggie Throup said:
It's absolutely vital that pregnant women get their COVID-19 vaccine if they haven't already - with the virus increasing the risk of severe illness and premature birth for those who catch it.
I urge everyone, including pregnant women, to get their vaccine as soon as they can to take advantage of this crucial protection."
Dr June Raine, Chief Executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said:
We want to reassure all pregnant women that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective for them to use at all stages of pregnancy. Our rigorous safety monitoring of these vaccines in pregnancy shows that the vaccines are safe and that there is no increased risk of pregnancy complications, miscarriage or stillbirth.
The data highlights the importance of those who are pregnant receiving the vaccine. Our advice remains that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks for most people, including those who are pregnant.
We encourage pregnant women to come forward and receive the vaccine. Please speak to your doctor or midwife if you have any questions.
Dr Mary Ross-Davie, Director for Professional Midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said:
When you're pregnant, you want to do all you can to keep your baby - and yourself - safe. That's why the RCM is urging women to take up the COVID-19 vaccine.
Having COVID-19 during pregnancy carries a far higher risk than having the vaccine, particularly in the later stages where it can have serious consequences for both mother and baby. It can double the chance of stillbirth and triples the chance of a preterm birth, which can have long term health impact for the baby.
We know that the vaccine is a safe and effective way of preventing this, with hundreds of thousands of pregnant women worldwide having been vaccinated. And we also know that women turn to their midwives for advice, so we've produced some great resources for midwives and maternity staff to support women in their decision-making."
Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), said:
This important report is the first detailed analysis of COVID-19 vaccine coverage in women giving birth in the UK and provides further reassuring evidence that vaccinated women have no increased risk of having a stillbirth or low birthweight baby.
The evidence reinforces our strong recommendation that getting vaccinated before or during pregnancy is the best way to protect against the known harms of developing COVID-19 while pregnant, including admission to intensive care and premature birth.
We are concerned that women of Black ethnicity and those living in the most deprived areas in England were least likely to have been vaccinated before they gave birth. Efforts must be strengthened to support and encourage these groups - who are already at the highest risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes - to accept the offer of vaccination."
A government-backed trial, Preg-CoV, has also been launched to provide more data about how the NHS can best protect pregnant women and their babies, and the evidence will be used inform future vaccination programmes. Pregnant women are being encouraged to sign-up to the trial.
The data has been published for the first time today, now sufficient numbers of women who were pregnant when the vaccines were rolled out have given birth.