When you’re pregnant, you can feel a unique mix of complete vulnerability and a fierce protective instinct. You are the sole person responsible for the little being growing inside you, and yet everyone around you has an opinion about how you should do it.
But along with the usual contradictory advice being thrown at pregnant women, now, in the age of Covid-19, they have been given mixed messages from official NHS advice to that given by doctors, midwives, along with social media, friends and family about the safety of vaccines.
The NHS say it is critical that pregnant women do get vaccinated; one in six of the most severely ill Covid patients are unvaccinated pregnant women, figures released last week show. In July, a grieving husband of an unvaccinated pregnant woman who died after developing Covid-19 urged other pregnant women to get jabbed.
“Receiving two doses of the vaccine is the safest and most effective way of protecting you and your baby from COVID-19 infection,” the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says.
But that message does not seem to be echoed by all NHS staff to their pregnant patients. “I had my first covid jab before I was pregnant,” one woman texted the Vaccines and Pregnancy information line, a new service aimed to give women more information. “When my second jab was due, I was told no research had been done on pregnant women with AstraZeneca and they wouldn't advise me to get it. I asked my GP and consultant who said the same.”
Another worried expectant mother wrote: “I'm currently in my third trimester and, though I want to, I've not yet had my 2nd dose, as my GP advised against it. Recently there's been a high number of positive covid cases at the school I work at. I've tried contacting the GP and the midwife several times for more information but getting nowhere.”
The new text service is an attempt to help women get the facts and has been set up by Full Fact, The UK’s independent factchecking charity, in partnership with the campaigning charity Pregnant Then Screwed. Lauren Fabianski from the charity, says “We even spoke to a woman who had to get their local MP involved to get access to a Covid jab.”
The mixed messaging from staff comes on top of ten months of confusion about whether the vaccines are safe for pregnant women. I was pregnant most of last year when vaccines were just starting to be rolled out. At the time, official advice was that pregnant and breastfeeding women should not get the vaccine. That advice changed in April this year, when the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) changed its mind and advised pregnant women to be offered the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.
Even then, pregnant women were not prioritised – something MP Stella Creasey highlighted in a separate campaign with Pregnant Then Screwed at the time.
So, it’s no wonder that part of the reason for a low uptake of vaccine amongst pregnant women is because of mistrust. A survey in May found that 58% of pregnant women had declined the vaccine.
Louise, an actuary, said she felt the “net of Covid” tightening around her in June 2021, when she was eight months pregnant, unvaccinated, and cases kept cropping up at her daughter’s nursery. Her midwife advised her not to have the vaccine.
However, while one of the biggest concerns is the idea the vaccine might cause a miscarriage (it's one of the most asked questions to the Full Fact service), according to a study by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no scientific reason the vaccine might affect pregnancy. “Studies observing pregnant women who have been vaccinated have found people are not more likely to suffer a miscarriage if they have had the Covid-19 vaccine,” Full Fact says.
To date more than 80,000 women in England who reported that they were pregnant or could be pregnant at the time of vaccination have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the latest government figures, along with other countries around the world. One study by researchers in Israel, the first country in the world to vaccinate most of its citizens, looking at health data from 3,000 women found that coronavirus vaccines do not raise pregnancy risks.
Dr Victoria Male, reproductive immunology lecturer at Imperial College London, told the charity that “babies that have been born so far are being born looking happy, healthy and normal”. She added that data from other vaccines that are routinely given in pregnancy such as flu and whooping cough do not show “bad long-term effects; we have no reason to expect that these vaccines will be any different.”
But both Full Fact and Pregnant then Screwed say that women need more information to help them make the right decisions for them. “We know how scary misinformation can be, especially when you’re growing a human,” Fabianski says. “We were flooded with messages from women who’d been given contradictory advice from medical professionals about vaccines and pregnancy.”
Claire Milne, Deputy Editor at Full Fact agrees. “From what we’ve seen come into our helpline, it’s clear the information available to expectant mothers and their families has been at times confused. Pregnant women need to be able to make informed choices about their own health and that of their unborn child.”
If you have any questions or concerns regarding Covid-19 and pregnancy can send a WhatsApp message, image, video or voice note to the new service by Full Fact and Pregnant then Screwed and you will receive a reply within 24 hours. +44 7521 770995