Data Supports Good Safety Record for COVID Vaccines in Pregnancy

Peter Russell

November 26, 2021

Pregnant women have been urged to accept a COVID-19 vaccination after fresh evidence was published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) reinforcing the jab's safety.

It said the data was in line with international evidence that COVID vaccines had a good safety record in pregnant women.

The analysis found that the stillbirth rate in England for vaccinated women who gave birth was around 3.35 per 1000, similar to the 3.60 per 1000 rate for unvaccinated women seen between January and August 2021.

The proportion of vaccinated women giving birth to babies with low birthweight was 5.28%, compared with 5.36% for unvaccinated women (5.36%).

The proportion of premature births was 6.51% for vaccinated and 5.99% for unvaccinated women during the same period.

The small differences between the cohorts could be explained by when the women were eligible to be vaccinated, such as whether they were older or younger, and whether or not they had comorbidities.

COVID vaccines have been given to thousands of pregnant women in England. The UKHSA said existing evidence showed that women with COVID-19 in later pregnancy were at increased risk of severe disease requiring hospital and intensive care admission.

During the 8-month period reviewed, 355,299 women gave birth, of whom 24,759 had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine prior to delivery, the Agency said.

Ethnicity and Deprivation

Socio-economic background and ethnicity were significant factors behind pregnancy vaccination rates.

The data showed that only 7.8% of women living in more deprived areas had a vaccine while pregnant, compared with 26.5% in less deprived areas.

Pregnant Black women were also the least likely to be vaccinated at the time of birth (5.5%), while White women were the most likely to be vaccinated at the time of birth (17.5%).

Existing evidence shows women with COVID-19 disease in later pregnancy are at increased risk of severe disease requiring hospital and intensive care admission.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at UKHSA, said: "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."

Increased Risk

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that developing COVID carried a much higher risk than having the vaccine, and that only 22% of women who gave birth in August were vaccinated.

Of pregnant women in hospital with symptomatic COVID-19, 98% were 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, according to the DHSC.

It said that around one in five women who are hospitalised 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.

Dr Mary Ross-Davie, Director for professional midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives, commented: "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."

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said it was concerned that women of Black ethnicity and those living in the most deprived areas were least likely to be vaccinated before giving birth.

Its president, Dr Edward Morris, said: "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."

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