Concern is growing about the lack of data on Covid-19 vaccination rates of pregnant women, as statistics from the United Kingdom show nearly 20 per cent of the most ill Covid patients are pregnant and unimmunised.
The Ministry of Health says it does not collect this information for “privacy reasons”. It is also refusing to confirm how many people who have tested positive for the virus during the current outbreak are pregnant and the proportion of them who have been hospitalised.
Studies conducted overseas showed less than half of pregnant women had been fully immunised against Covid-19. Experts are calling for more local research to be done.
Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu, an immunologist, associate dean (Pacific) and an expert of pathology and molecular medicine from the University of Otago in Wellington, said the context in Aotearoa New Zealand was important.
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Studies conducted overseas showed less than half of pregnant women had been fully immunised against Covid-19. (File photo)
“Essentially with pregnancy, there’s [an increased] risk of ICU admission and care … there’s increased risk of the baby being born premature, there’s increased risk of stillbirth.”
University of Auckland’s deputy head of obstetrics and gynaecology Dr Michelle Wise plans to conduct a study on vaccine uptake among pregnant women in Auckland to plug some of the gaps in knowledge. But that would take several months and require ethics approval.
“It’s tricky because you’re dealing with private health information. It’s really for a hospital service to work out amongst their own patients,” she said.
Last week, the UK National Health Service said in a statement that since July, one in five Covid patients being treated on “a special lung-bypass machine” were expectant mothers yet to have their first jab.
US hospitals reported a similar spike in unvaccinated pregnant women becoming severally ill and dying from Covid-19.
Last month, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said pregnant women who were “quite unwell” with Covid-19 had been admitted to Auckland hospitals.
Dr Michelle Wise, deputy head of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Auckland, says the Pfizer vaccine is safe for pregnant women and unborn babies.
While Wise understood pregnant women were often reluctant to take medications during pregnancy, she said the Pfizer vaccine was safe for them and would protect hapū māma (pregnant mothers) as well as their pēpē (babies), as antibodies in the mother’s bloodstream could pass through the placenta.
“The science is clear. It’s consistent. Every single study shows the same thing.”
Research conducted with hundreds of thousands of participants found no increased risk of miscarriage or fetal abnormality among pregnant women who had the Pfizer vaccine.
Medsafe approved the Pfizer vaccine for pregnant women in June and the College of Midwives recommends pregnant women receive both doses.
Green MP Julie Anne Genter is 34 weeks pregnant with her second child. She received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in early August and her second the following month.
She backed the calls by scientists for more data to be collected on vaccine coverage among pregnant people in Aotearoa, citing “shockingly low and very concerning” statistics from the US showing less than 20 per cent of pregnant African American had been jabbed against Covid-19.
Genter said it was important to know if other vulnerable populations here had similarly low rates, “because if they are we need to do something about it”.
Green MP Julie Anne Genter gets her first Pfizer vaccine at 24 weeks pregnant.
College of Midwives midwifery advisor Claire MacDonald said data on vaccination rates of the pregnant population could help guide how midwives and the Ministry responded to Covid outbreaks in the future.
Juliet Rumball-Smith, who is in charge of the clinical quality and safety for the vaccine rollout, said in a statement the Ministry recommended all pregant people get the Pfizer vaccine as soon as possible.
“Not only is the Covid-19 vaccine one of the more well-studied medicines of our time, it is certainly the most publicly scrutinised medicine in recent memory.
“Data from millions of pregnant people who have already been vaccinated globally, indicates that there are no additional safety concerns with administering Covid-19 vaccines at any stage of pregnancy.”