Experts are urging more mothers-to-be to have a Covid-19 vaccine as new data for England shows the jabs are safe in pregnancy.
Figures published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) show women who have had a Covid vaccine are no more likely than the unvaccinated to suffer stillbirth, premature birth or have babies with low birthweight.
Experts described the findings as reassuring, with Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the UKHSA, saying: “Every pregnant woman who has not yet been vaccinated should feel confident to go and get the jab.”
The call was backed by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), which said women should not risk contracting Covid-19, which can have “serious consequences for both mother and baby”, particularly in the late stages of pregnancy.
One in five of the most critically ill Covid patients in hospital since July have been pregnant women who have not been vaccinated.
Of all pregnant women in hospital with the virus, 98% are unvaccinated.
Around a fifth of pregnant women who end up in hospital with Covid need to deliver their baby early so they can recover, while one in five of their babies needs care in a neonatal unit.
Despite the risks, just 22% of women who gave birth in August had opted for a vaccine.
While uptake among pregnant women is improving, experts are worried about some groups shunning the vaccine, including younger women, those in the most deprived areas and women from black and minority ethnic communities.
The new data for England published by the UKHSA covers the eight-month period between January and August this year.
It looked at 355,299 women who gave birth, of whom 24,759 had received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine.
The data found no woman who was fully vaccinated and pregnant was admitted to intensive care with Covid between February and the end of September.
It also found that:
– The stillbirth rate for vaccinated women who gave birth was approximately 3.35 per 1,000, slightly lower than the rate for unvaccinated women (3.60 per 1,000) seen in January to August.
– The proportion of vaccinated women giving birth to babies with low birthweight (5.28%) was similar to the proportion for unvaccinated women (5.36%).
– The proportion of premature births was 6.51% for vaccinated and 5.99% for unvaccinated women.
The UKHSA said the small differences between groups may be explained by differences in the women eligible for and taking up the vaccine.
The data also found that women living in the most deprived areas of England were least likely to have been vaccinated with at least one dose before they gave birth.
Just 7.8% of women living in more deprived areas of England had a vaccine while pregnant, compared to 26.5% in less deprived areas.
Black women 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%).
Women who were from a white background were the most vaccinated (17.5%) out of the group.
Dr Ramsay 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.
“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 Mary Ross-Davie, director for professional midwifery at the RCM, said: “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.”
Professor Lucy Chappell, the Department of Health and Social Care’s chief scientific adviser, 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.”
Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and deputy lead for the NHS Covid-19 vaccination programme, said: “This new and encouraging research shows there are no significant concerns about the safety of Covid-19 vaccines in pregnancy.”
Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, 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.
“Our advice remains that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks for most people, including those who are pregnant.”
Elsewhere, NHS England announced that the Covid-19 vaccination programme has now delivered 95 million doses across England, including boosters.