Anyone who’s been pregnant remembers being up in the early hours, especially in those last few months, because the baby has decided that 2am is the time to use your uterus as a bouncy castle. I suspect most of us have spent that time googling, ‘Has she kicked enough?’, 'Do I want pethidine as pain relief?', 'Which vitamins have the highest levels of folic acid?', and whether you can eat that stilton you’ve been craving…
What’s been different for so many of us over the last year though (and from my first pregnancy with my son), is that on top of the usual worries and late-night googling sessions, we’ve also been up reading about the risks of COVID-19 to us and our babies. It’s been an incredibly uncertain and nerve-wracking time for everyone, but when you have the livelihood of your baby to consider as well as your own, I cannot begin to explain how terrifying that can be.
That is why the COVID-19 vaccine has been seen by most as a beacon of hope – it takes away some of that uncertainty and offers us a real chance to get back to a type of normality, whilst ultimately saving lives, including those of pregnant women and their babies.
I gave birth in January, during lockdown. I’m breastfeeding now, and when I was offered the COVID-19 vaccine I didn’t hesitate. But I know so many mums are nervous about it, and that is totally understandable.
Pregnancy is frankly terrifying – yes it’s wonderful – but your body goes through hell, and there isn’t a second of the day when you’re not doing everything you can to make sure this little life inside you is protected from every possible harm. You make sure you’re not eating anything risky, you take vitamins and dreadful-tasting oil capsules every day, and you are poked and prodded (to be polite about it) despite feeling often utterly dreadful for months. Your sole focus is your baby’s safety.
And now because of this awful virus, you’re being asked to take something that doesn’t have the decades of data and research behind its impact on pregnancies that so many other vaccines and medications do – it is then, no wonder, that many pregnant women are hesitant about this life-saving vaccine.
It is because of this that the government has backed a new Preg-CoV study with £7.5 million of funding. The study, which is being led by St George’s, will provide vital clinical trial data on the immune response to vaccination at different dose intervals, and will be the country’s largest clinical trial of the vaccine in pregnant women.
This is an incredibly important piece of work, as I believe pregnant women deserve as much information as possible to be comfortable with the decisions that they make. I hope that this research will help to gain the confidence of pregnant women that the recommendation of vaccination is based on evidence that is clear-cut and robust.
And whilst, quite rightly, we ask questions about the vaccine, in the meantime research shows that pregnant women are more likely to become seriously ill from COVID-19, and 98% of those in hospital due to COVID-19 are unvaccinated.
In the third trimester, lung capacity is almost halved due to how much space our babies need. COVID-19 is a virus that attacks our respiratory systems – that’s why people are ending up on ventilators to help them breathe. And that’s happening to pregnant women too.
During pregnancy our immune system is weakened (so our bodies don’t reject our babies). COVID-19 preys upon our immune systems causing untold damage in ways we’re still learning. So not only is our lung capacity halved, but our immune system is by no means fighting fit.
It is the combination of significantly reduced lung capacity, a weakened immune system, and all the other pressures that being pregnant puts on our bodies that is leaving pregnant women in intensive care. On top of this we now understand the Delta variant is more of a threat to pregnant women than other variants. No, there are not hundreds of pregnant women dying of COVID-19 – but you do have an increased risk of severe reaction to the disease.
But we can stop this from happening – and it’s the vaccine that will keep pregnant women and our babies out of intensive care and off ventilators. Nearly 52,000 pregnant women in the UK have had at least one dose of the vaccine and of the women that have had two doses, not one has ended up in intensive care. Of the hundreds of thousands of mothers who’ve been vaccinated across the world (mainly with Pfizer) no safety concerns have been raised for baby or mum. There have been zero confirmed cases of blood clots in pregnant women.
But over 300 pregnant women in the UK who hadn’t been vaccinated have had to be admitted to hospital. I know anyone who is hesitant is focused solely on doing what is best for their baby, but the real danger is COVID-19. I know you can never have complete peace of mind, but all the available data tells us that the vaccine is the best way to keep us and our babies safe and out of intensive care.
Throughout the pandemic I have always fought for the rights of women, our partners and our babies. When NHS Trusts banned partners from scans, labour, miscarriages and other appointments, I fought against these cruel and unnecessary restrictions. I worked with the Prime Minister and former Health Secretary to get lateral flow tests prioritised for maternity units, and I raised with the medical experts time and time again the need to raise awareness of the risks of COVID-19 to pregnant women.
That is why I am pleased that the government has recognised this data gap and has pledged funding for the Preg-CoV study – giving pregnant women the information and protection they deserve by allowing them to be vaccinated with confidence really matters. Please, please get your COVID-19 vaccination.
This piece originally appeared on the Grazia website on 10th August 2021