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WoW study confirms the impact of severe Covid-19 infection on mothers and babies

There needs to be greater focus on engaging with pregnant women to boost vaccination rates, say leading experts


Today, new research funded by Wellbeing of Women and The National Institute of Health Research shows that severe Covid-19 infection significantly increases the risk of harmful outcomes for mothers and their babies. Vaccination rates among pregnant women remain low, despite the results showing that the vaccines protect pregnant women from illness and the need for hospital admission.

The study, led by Professor Marian Knight at the University of Oxford, shows that 73% of Asian women, 86% of Black women and 65% of white women were unvaccinated at the time of giving birth in October 2021.

It has found that severe Covid-19 infection in pregnant women, particularly in the third trimester, significantly increased the risk of giving birth early, having an induction or a caesarean, having a stillborn baby or a baby that needed intensive care.

Professor Dame Lesley Regan, Chair of Wellbeing of Women, is calling for "urgent action" to address these "stark racial and social inequalities" among pregnant women.

In the UK, an estimated 1.1 million women gave birth between March 2020 and October 2021.

Overall, 4,436 pregnant women were admitted to hospital with Covid-19 during this period in the UK: 65% had mild disease, 21% had moderate illness and 14% had severe infection.

77% of all the women were in their third trimester of pregnancy.

Tragically, during the study period, 22 women died with severe Covid-19 during pregnancy, 59 babies were stillborn and 10 babies died around the time of birth.

Those women at greatest risk were over 30, from Black, Asian or other ethnic minority backgrounds, were obese or had other health conditions such as gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.

Latest statistics show that 82% of women from the most deprived areas of the country were unvaccinated at the time of birth, compared with 52% of those in the least deprived areas.

Wellbeing of Women researcher, Professor Marian Knight at The National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, Oxford Population Health, who led the study, said:

“Most women give birth safely and have healthy babies, but sadly we know that pregnant women are at greater risk of developing severe Covid-19 infection, particularly in the third trimester. This can lead to tragic outcomes, including premature birth and stillbirth. “While vaccination rates are increasing, it is extremely concerning that pregnant women who are at most risk of severe infection are among the communities least likely to be vaccinated before giving birth. Local community engagement with vulnerable groups of women should be an urgent priority to address concerns and give reassurance about the Covid-19 vaccine.”

Professor Dame Lesley Regan, Consultant Obstetrician and Chair of Wellbeing of Women, said:

“It is understandable that the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has created fear, worry and uncertainty for women thinking about having a baby and those who are already pregnant. Unfortunately, Covid-19 has also worsened existing health and social inequalities, particularly among pregnant women from ethnic minority groups.

“The initial advice for pregnant women last year did not recommend the Covid-19 vaccine, which has undoubtedly contributed to low vaccination rates. It also highlights the need for pregnant women to be included in clinical trials at a much earlier stage.“We call for urgent action to address these stark inequalities and the gender data gap. The upcoming Women’s Health Strategy offers a real opportunity to tackle these issues and ensure no woman is left behind.”

Dr Nighat Arif, a GP with an interest in women’s health, and Resident Doctor for BBC Breakfast & ITV This Morning, said:

“The Covid-19 vaccine is safe and effective for pregnant women and their babies.

“If you are thinking about becoming, or are already, pregnant, please get the Covid-19 vaccine. You can also have the vaccine if you are breastfeeding. It offers you and your baby the best protection against serious illness and complications from the virus.

“Speak to your GP, nurse, midwife or obstetrician if you have any questions or would like to find out more – and book your vaccine, whether it is the first, second or booster dose, straight away.”

In the second trimester of her second pregnancy, Samira Ahmed, a blogger living in London, chose to have the Covid-19 vaccine. "The Covid-19 vaccine gave me more than physical protection – it gave me mental strength," said Samira. Read her experience here.

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