England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam answered everyone’s all-important vaccination questions this morning as roll outs of the vaccine begin in the UK next week. One many were keen to know about though perhaps had an unexpected answer. ‘Can pregnant women have the Covid vaccine?’ Van-Tam was asked to a resounding ‘No.’

In provisional guidance put out by the Public Health England last week, it was stated that while there are no known risks or safety concerns, pregnant women or women planning to get pregnant in the next three months are advised against having the coronavirus vaccine.

Why can’t pregnant women get the vaccine?

When coronavirus first took over our lives, many pregnant women feared the virus when they were placed in the vulnerable category of at-risk people. But actually, according to the NHS website, that was just a precaution because so little was known about the virus.

‘There’s no evidence that pregnant women are more likely to get seriously ill from coronavirus,’ it reads. ‘But pregnant women have been included in the list of people at moderate risk (clinically vulnerable) as a precaution. This is because pregnant women can sometimes be more at risk from viruses like flu. It’s not clear if this happens with coronavirus. But because it’s a new virus, it’s safer to include pregnant women in the moderate-risk group.’

Of course, many may be confused why they’re not a high priority in getting vaccinated given pregnant women are classed as clinically vulnerable. Well, according to Public Health England, it’s because pregnant women weren’t included in clinical trials and so there’s not enough evidence about how it impacts them.

‘As with most pharmaceutical products, specific clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccine in pregnant women have not been carried out,’ their guidance reads. ‘Although the available data do not indicate any safety concern or harm to pregnancy, there is insufficient evidence to recommend routine use of COVID-19 vaccines during pregnancy. Vaccination should be postponed until the completion of pregnancy.’

As is the theme of 2020, this seems to be causing a divided reaction. For those desperate to have the vaccine and return to a somewhat normal life, there is undoubtedly disappointment. But for others worried about the risks – albeit unnecessarily as there are no known risks right now – it may come as a relief. At least, Google data would tell you so.

In the past week, searches for the infamous thalidomide have gone through the roof – as they tend to whenever a new vaccine or treatment is offered to pregnant women. In case you forgot, thalidomide was a drug developed in the 1950’s in West Germany. It was used across Europe to treat morning sickness in pregnant women but went on to cause birth defects and the deaths of around 2000 children. It was removed from the European market in 1961. Horror stories have been told ever since.

But of course, it’s important to remember that not only was thalidomide not a vaccination at all, it has been more than 70 years since this tragedy occurred with countless medical and scientific advancements made in that time. Rules and regulations around clinical trails and testing have also improved substantially since then, as expected.

pregnant woman in mask

‘There is no known risk associated with giving inactivated, recombinant viral or bacterial vaccines or toxoids during pregnancy or whilst breastfeeding,’ Public Health England states. ‘Since inactivated vaccines cannot replicate, they cannot cause infection in either the mother or the foetus. Although  vaccine contains a live adenovirus vector, this virus is not replicating so will not cause infection in the mother or the foetus.’

For pregnant women at high risk – such as those working in health care – the government advises offering the vaccine as soon as possible after completing pregnancy. For the small number that also cannot avoid exposure and have underlying conditions that put them at high risk of serious complications from catching Covid-10, they say clinicians can consider discussing vaccination in that case. ‘These conditions would include Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, homozygous sickle cell disease, motor neurone disease, chemotherapy, and chronic kidney disease,’ the guidance states. ‘The woman should be told about the absence of safety data for these vaccines.’

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