Vaccine priority for pregnant women welcomed by health professionals

Vaccine priority for pregnant women welcomed by health professionals

The Pfizer or Moderna vaccine will be offered to pregnant women under new recommendations from Niac. Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Prioritising pregnant women for Covid-19 vaccines allows them to make the best choice for their pregnancy, leading obstetricians have said. 

Pregnant women at 14 to 36 weeks gestation will be offered an mRNA vaccine  — Pfizer or Moderna — if suitable, under new recommendations from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac).

The recommendation has been hailed by health professionals, who said it brings Ireland in line with international counterparts. 

In the US, about 94,000 pregnant vaccinated women are being tracked by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. 

No vaccine-related unexpected pregnancy or infant outcomes have been observed.

Professor Keelin O’ Donoghue, an obstetrician at Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH) said: “Women will make different decisions and that is fine, but we want them to have the choice.

Women can now discuss vaccination with their obstetrician and midwife and make the best decision for their pregnancy.

In Ireland, there were 10 incidences of a rare condition called Covid Placentitis this year; resulting in seven fetal deaths and three other emergency births. This is where the placenta is injured by direct effect of the virus on its cells.

Prof O’Donoghue said numbers affected by such “devastating outcomes” are very small but the consequences are terrible. 

The risk of stillbirth, she said, for pregnant women with Covid-19 is currently estimated at “somewhere between 1:100 and 1:200.” 

New data has shown “specific links” between the B.117 variant of the virus and these fetal deaths. 

Just one case of Covid placentitis was reported in Ireland last year, from CUH/CUMH. 

The recent stillbirths with the same pathology led perinatal pathologists and coroners to inform public health experts which may have influenced vaccine policy. 

Covid-19 maternity guidelines are being updated and Prof O'Donoghue expects publication this week. 

Professor Shane Higgins, master at the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin also welcomed the changes.

The cut-off at 14 to 36 weeks gestation fits with international practice, he said.

The hospital gives Covid-19 tests to women at all stages of pregnancy. He said women with an asymptomatic infection can test positive when arriving to give birth. And he urged patients to share Covid-19 test results with hospitals so their care can be adjusted.

“Not all [Covid-19] diagnoses for pregnant women are made in maternity hospitals. So it is important they inform their healthcare providers,” he said.

This change and others recommended by Niac will be used by the HSE to re-adjust the roll-out in the coming days.

Separately, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly addressed the health committee. 

He said “significant work” is being done preparing for the EU Digital Green Certificate. This will allow vaccinated people to travel freely.

But he warned original estimates of €7m costs for mandatory hotel quarantine will “inevitably increase” as more hotels are added.

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