More than half of pregnant women in England have now had one or more doses of a Covid-19 jab, government figures have suggested.
Data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has shown that 53.7% of pregnant women in England have now been vaccinated with at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
The milestone is significant because women who are pregnant have been one of the ‘hard to reach’ categories for Covid vaccination, in part because of an initial lack of clarity around possible contra-indications as pregnant women were not included in the original vaccine development trials.
However, the NHS and government have since then been working hard to address vaccine hesitancy among this cohort.
In January, the government launched a campaign to encourage pregnant women who had not had a first, second, third or booster Covid-19 jab to come forward and get vaccinated as soon as possible.
The campaign by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and Royal College of Midwives highlighted the serious risks of catching Covid-19 and the benefits vaccines bring to protecting both mothers and their babies.
Covid vaccine hesitancy
The UKHSA has, however, warned that vaccine uptake among pregnant still remains low compared to the general population.
Vaccine coverage has been increasing overall – in August 2021, 22.7% of women giving birth had received at least one dose of vaccine. This increased to 32.3% of women who gave birth in September; 41.6% in October 2021; 48.6% in November – and the latest data shows that it rose to 53.7% in December 2021, UKHSA said.
Women of Black ethnicity and women living in the most deprived areas in England were least likely to have been vaccinated in pregnancy. By the time of delivery, 24.9% of Black women and 32.7% of women living in the most deprived areas of England had at least one vaccine dose – up from 13.3% and 18.3% respectively since February.
Despite the increase, these figures are still significantly lower than that of white women (51.4%) and Asian women (42.4%) – and those in the least deprived areas (64.7%), UKHSA added.
Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: “We urge all pregnant woman who has not yet been vaccinated to come forward for their jab.
“Covid-19 vaccines used in the UK are highly effective at protecting against hospitalisation and our ongoing monitoring of the vaccine programme continues to reassure us on the safety of these vaccines with similar pregnancy outcomes for vaccinated and unvaccinated pregnant women,” Dr Amirthalingam added.
Previous studies have shown the risk of being severely ill with Covid-19 is higher for unvaccinated women, UKHSA has said.
Pregnant women who develop severe disease also have increased rates of admission to intensive care, the need for invasive ventilation and pre-term delivery, it added.
Separately, midwives caring for pregnant women can use one of four blood tests to help diagnose suspected preterm pre-eclampsia, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has said, in new draft diagnostic guidance.
The independent NICE diagnostic advisory committee has recommended four tests that can be used between 20 to 36 weeks and six days of pregnancy to help make decisions about caring for women presenting with suspected preterm pre-eclampsia.
Pre-eclampsia is a potentially serious complication of pregnancy, thought to be related to problems with the development of the placenta.
Early signs of pre-eclampsia include high blood pressure and having protein in the urine. Pre-eclampsia affects up to 6% of pregnancies, with severe pre-eclampsia developing in around 1%-2% of UK pregnancies, NICE has said.
The recommended tests measure levels of placental growth factor (PLGF) in the blood. PLGF is a protein that helps the development of new blood vessels in the placenta. In pre-eclampsia levels of PLGF can be abnormally low and could be an indicator that the placenta is not developing properly.
Jeanette Kusel, acting director for MedTech and digital at NICE, said: “These tests represent a step-change in the management and treatment of pre-eclampsia. This is extremely valuable to doctors and expectant mothers as now they can have increased confidence in their treatment plans and preparing for a safe birth.”