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New UK data on Covid vaccine in pregnancy confirms it is safe and effective

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The first UK data on outcomes in pregnant women who have had Covid-19 vaccination show that it is safe and effective at preventing severe disease.

Between January and August 2021, 355,299 women gave birth and 24,759 had received at least one vaccine dose before they delivered.

The rate of stillbirths was similar between vaccinated and unvaccinated as was the rate of babies with a low birthweight.

Figures also showed the proportion of premature births was 6.51% for vaccinated and 5.99% for unvaccinated women – a slight difference that could be explained by those who are eligible for or opting to be vaccinated, for example being older and more likely to have an underlying medical condition.

Yet among pregnant women in hospital for Covid-19, 98% are unvaccinated with no fully vaccinated pregnant women admitted to intensive care with the virus in England between February and the end of September 2021, according to UK Obstetric Surveillance System data.

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, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

Professor Lucy Chappell, chief scientific adviser for the DHSC 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.

‘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 the UK Health Security Agency who collated the data, 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.’

The figures also show stark inequalities in uptake, the UKHSA said. Pregnant women of Black ethnicity were also the least likely to be vaccinated at the time of birth (5.5%), followed by women of Asian ethnicity (13.5%) and mixed ethnicity (14.0%) – with women who were from a white background most likely to be vaccinated (17.5%).

Dr Nikki Kanani, NHS England director of primary care 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.’

UK regulators have recommended that all pregnant women have the Covid vaccine since April this year, while women with underlying health conditions or at high risk of Covid exposure were recommended to get the jab since January.