Pregnant women face confusion and delays as they try to get Covid jab – charity
Pregnant women trying to get the preferred coronavirus vaccine have faced confusion, delays and wasted trips, a charity has said.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advises that it is “preferable” for pregnant women in the UK to be offered the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines where available.
But the online booking system has not given pregnant women the option to specify what vaccine they want.
It is understood that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are considered preferable because they are the jabs for which safety information relating to pregnant women is available, whereas there is not as much relevant data on other jabs such as the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
It was confirmed on Friday that under-40s are to be offered an alternative to the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
The lack of clear guidance on how to access the appropriate vaccine has led to confusion among women, and has led to wasted trips, unnecessary travel and delays in getting the vaccine
Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of the JCVI, said he hopes NHS England “will be able to overcome” difficulties in pregnant women accessing the Pfizer or Moderna coronavirus vaccines.
He told a televised briefing: “In terms of the access to such vaccines, I understand there have been some reports of difficulties in accessing the vaccines.
“I certainly hope that operationally NHS England will be able to overcome those difficulties in access.”
He said while the JCVI advises that it is preferable for pregnant women to be offered a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, “we’re not saying that the other vaccines are in any way harmful or should not be given”.
He added: “Simply that, where it’s available we should offer, if possible, the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to women who are pregnant.”
Ros Bragg, director of maternity rights charity Maternity Action, said she was not surprised that pregnant women have found it difficult to access the preferred Covid-19 vaccine, adding that the needs of pregnant women and new mothers have been “woefully low on the Government’s priority list” throughout the pandemic.
Ms Bragg said: “Pregnant women continue to be expected to work in public-facing roles and busy offices throughout their pregnancy and are rarely offered any additional protections, even after 28 weeks.
“Women receive little help from the Health and Safety Executive and are generally left to choose between unsafe working conditions, taking sick leave, taking early maternity leave, or resigning.
“Against this backdrop, we cautiously welcomed the news that the JCVI updated their guidance on pregnant women receiving certain Covid jabs.
“However the lack of clear guidance on how to access the appropriate vaccine has led to confusion among women, and has led to wasted trips, unnecessary travel and delays in getting the vaccine.”
Ms Bragg said the problem is only going to increase as more pregnant women become eligible for a jab in younger cohorts.
“We call on the Government to urgently review their vaccine booking procedures so that women can book an appropriate vaccine in a timely and straightforward manner,” she said.
It would be helpful for all involved if patients who are being advised not to have the AZ vaccine have the option to book directly into a non-AZ vaccine clinic via the booking system, particularly when this applies to other, larger patient groups
Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, highlighted the importance of GPs having all the relevant information at hand.
He said: “If patients are being advised to contact their GP practice, it’s vital all GPs are informed of how to handle queries, regardless of whether they are involved in the vaccination programme.
“GPs and their teams will try to help pregnant women access the right vaccine if they are able to – as will other healthcare professionals they are likely to be in contact with, such as midwives – but it’s important they are informed of how to do this.
“It would be helpful for all involved if patients who are being advised not to have the AZ vaccine have the option to book directly into a non-AZ vaccine clinic via the booking system, particularly when this applies to other, larger patient groups.”
Dr Pat O’Brien, vice president at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: “Following the latest announcement today, we urge Government and the NHS to ensure there is a system in place that enables pregnant women – including those over the age of 40 who have already been invited to book their vaccine – to easily access alternative vaccines.
“The latest Government guidance for pregnant women is to contact their GP for advice on how to receive the appropriate vaccine.
“However GP practices are reporting that they don’t have the ability to do this, leaving pregnant women feeling frustrated and helpless as they are passed from pillar to post.
“Healthcare professionals offering Covid-19 vaccination should continue to discuss the benefits and risks, including the side-effects, with pregnant and postnatal women and for those about to start – or who have started – fertility treatment.
“This should include discussion of the different vaccine types available, including the extremely rare adverse thrombotic events.”
Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts said: “This does rather raise the question of why the online booking process cannot cope with something as common as pregnancy.
“It feels like yet another system that just doesn’t take women into account. When millions of people in each age cohort are desperate to book jab appointments as soon as they become available online, it’s profoundly discriminatory to build a system that requires only pregnant women to jump through multiple hoops.”
An NHS spokeswoman said: “Following the updated guidance set out by the JCVI, the NHS immediately communicated the advice to GPs.
“If you’re pregnant, or think you might be, speak to your maternity team or GP surgery to discuss your vaccine appointment so that it can be arranged at a site offering the Pfizer/BioNTech or the Moderna vaccine, which is preferable for pregnant women.”