There have been six cases of stillbirth and one second-trimester miscarriage caused by Covid-19 in Ireland since January of this year.
The Faculty of Pathology and Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) confirmed the six cases were all linked to Covid placentitis – a coronavirus-related infection of the placenta.
There have now been 11 cases of SARS-CoV2 placentitis identified in Ireland since the pandemic began.
The deaths, the RCPI says, likely indicate a connection to the newer B117 or ‘UK’ coronavirus variant of concern, and this may explain why there were almost no cases of SARS-CoV2 placentitis recorded during the first and second waves of the pandemic in 2020.
International literature to date also relates to coronavirus cases recorded earlier in the pandemic, before the spread of the newer more transmissible variants.
The RCPI believes this may be why Covid placentitis has not been a significant feature of Covid infection up to now.
According to the RCPI, the condition appears to occur a relatively short time after a woman contracts Covid-19, usually within 21 days from first experiencing symptoms.
Maternal Covid-19 symptoms varied from none to moderate, and gestation periods involved in the cases ranged from 20-36 weeks.
Pregnant women are advised to continue to observe current public health measures to avoid contracting Covid-19 infection.
If a pregnant woman does contract Covid-19, they should inform their maternity hospital of this to ensure appropriate follow-up.
Any woman with concerns regarding reduced fetal movements is advised to present at their hospital early.
Speaking yesterday, director of the HSE’s national women and infants programme Professor Peter McKenna said the cases of Covid-19 placentitis were likely associated with a surge in overall cases nationally since Christmas.
However, Prof McKenna said it did seem strange that this Covid placentitis was "a bigger issue" in Ireland than elsewhere.
This condition was a "recognised condition" in Ireland, he said, but not elsewhere in the world.
Speaking on RTÉ radio, Prof McKenna said that "an abundance of caution" was necessary and he would like to see more data about the safety of vaccinations for pregnant women.
Though there is limited experience in the use of the vaccines in pregnant women, current HSE immunisation guidelines say pregnant women remain eligible for vaccination if they are in a priority group, and should be supported in making an informed decision regarding whether to accept or not.
"Counselling should balance available data on vaccine safety, risks to pregnant women from SARS-CoV-2 infection, and a woman’s individual risk for infection and severe disease,” the HSE says.
"Where the risk/benefit is favourable, the two doses should be given 28 days apart.
"Vaccination of pregnant women can occur between 14 and 36 weeks."
It is understood that health officials are considering whether to strengthen specific virus and vaccine-related advice for pregnant women.