United Kingdom

Pregnant women trying to get Pfizer or Moderna's Covid vaccines face delays

Pregnant women trying to get the coronavirus vaccine have faced delays and wasted trips because they keep being offered the wrong vaccine, a charity warns.

Britain's medical regulator recommended expectant mothers should get either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine three weeks ago.

But now charity Maternity Action says they are struggling to get a first dose because they keep being offered appointments for the AstraZeneca jab.

Senior NHS bosses have pledged to fix the booking system 'in the coming days' to allow pregnant women to get their preferred vaccines. 

Experts said mothers-to-be have only been recommended two jabs because they have data on the shots effectiveness at blocking Covid infections, hospitalisations and deaths in this group.

Officials do not have this data for the Oxford-made jab, but they insisted there was no evidence that it was unsafe or less effective for pregnant women.  

NHS England said pregnant women in groups currently receiving jabs should contact their GP to book a vaccination appointment.

Studies show they are more at risk of severe illness or death if they get Covid compared to other women.

More than 34.9million Britons - or three in five Britons - have already received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine. It was expanded to the under-40s yesterday. There are more than 850,000 pregnancies in the UK every year.  

UNDER-40S SHOULD GET ALTERNATIVE TO ASTRAZENECA JABS

Britons under 40 should be offered an alternative to the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine due to its link to rare blood clots, health officials announced today.

Advisers made the recommendation after more adults suffered the potentially-fatal clotting disorder in the past week.

They said the absolute risk of the clots is still 'extremely small', affecting around one in 100,000 people given the British-made jab.

So far regulators have spotted major blood clots in 242 people, of whom 49 died. But they are occurring more in younger adults, with a rate of around one in 60,000 under-40s.

Experts said the infection rate in the UK is now so low that the risk of the rare clots outweigh that of Covid in younger adults, who often only suffer mild illness. They will be offered the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines instead, so long as there is enough supply and it won't delay the rollout.

Anyone, no matter what age, who has been given their first dose of the AstraZeneca jab and didn't suffer the complication is being urged to come forward for their second.

England's deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam claimed the change would not affect the Government's target to vaccinate all adults by July 31.

'Our vaccine supply schedule will support the change without limiting the speed and scale of the vaccine roll-out,' he told a televised Downing Street press conference.

'I do expect that we are still on target to offer a first dose to all adults by the end of July.'

It was previously recommended on April 7 that those under 30 with no underlying health conditions should be offered an alternative to AstraZeneca.  

Maternity Action's director of maternity rights Ros Bragg called on the Government to 'urgently review' their jabs booking system for expectant mothers.

'Pregnant women continue to be expected to work in public-facing roles and busy offices throughout their pregnancy and are rarely offered any additional protections, even after 28 weeks,' she said.

'Women receive little help from the Health and Safety Executive and are generally left to choose between unsafe working conditions, taking sick leave, taking early maternity leave, or resigning.

'Against this backdrop, we cautiously welcomed the news that the JCVI updated their guidance on pregnant women receiving certain Covid jabs.

'However, the lack of clear guidance on how to access the appropriate vaccine has led to confusion among women, and has led to wasted trips, unnecessary travel and delays in getting the vaccine.'

She added: 'We call on the Government to urgently review their vaccine booking procedures so that women can book an appropriate vaccine in a timely and straightforward manner.'

Studies suggest expectant mothers are at a greater risk of severe illness or death if they get infected with Covid compared to non-pregnant women of the same age.

Pregnant women are currently invited for their Covid vaccination via text or a phone call, which asks them to book the appointment online.

But users say they are unable to indicate that they should have the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines on the forms, in line with guidance. 

Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of the Government committee that designed the jabs priority list, said he hoped NHS England would be able to overcome the difficulties.

He told a televised briefing: 'In terms of the access to such vaccines, I understand there have been some reports of difficulties in accessing the vaccines.

'I certainly hope that operationally NHS England will be able to overcome those difficulties in access.'

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said GPs must have the relevant information at hand when dishing out vaccines.

'If patients are being advised to contact their GP practice, it’s vital all GPs are informed of how to handle queries, regardless of whether they are involved in the vaccination programme,' he said.

'GPs and their teams will try to help pregnant women access the right vaccine if they are able to – as will other healthcare professionals they are likely to be in contact with, such as midwives – but it’s important they are informed of how to do this.

'It would be helpful for all involved if patients who are being advised not to have the AZ vaccine have the option to book directly into a non-AZ vaccine clinic via the booking system, particularly when this applies to other, larger patient groups.'

Dr Pat O’Brien, vice president at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: 'Following the latest announcement today, we urge Government and the NHS to ensure there is a system in place that enables pregnant women – including those over the age of 40 who have already been invited to book their vaccine – to easily access alternative vaccines.

'The latest Government guidance for pregnant women is to contact their GP for advice on how to receive the appropriate vaccine.

“However GP practices are reporting that they don’t have the ability to do this, leaving pregnant women feeling frustrated and helpless as they are passed from pillar to post.

'Healthcare professionals offering Covid-19 vaccination should continue to discuss the benefits and risks, including the side-effects, with pregnant and postnatal women and for those about to start – or who have started – fertility treatment.

'This should include discussion of the different vaccine types available, including the extremely rare adverse thrombotic events.'

Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts said: 'This does rather raise the question of why the online booking process cannot cope with something as common as pregnancy.

'It feels like yet another system that just doesn’t take women into account. When millions of people in each age cohort are desperate to book jab appointments as soon as they become available online, it’s profoundly discriminatory to build a system that requires only pregnant women to jump through multiple hoops.'

An NHS spokeswoman said: 'Following the updated guidance set out by the JCVI, the NHS immediately communicated the advice to GPs.

'If you’re pregnant, or think you might be, speak to your maternity team or GP surgery to discuss your vaccine appointment so that it can be arranged at a site offering the Pfizer/BioNTech or the Moderna vaccine, which is preferable for pregnant women.'

It comes after the JCVI today recommended that all those under-40 should receive an alternative to the AstraZeneca vaccine, amid plummeting infections.

Advisers made the recommendation after more adults suffered the potentially-fatal clotting disorder in the past week.

They said the absolute risk of the clots is still 'extremely small', affecting around one in 100,000 people given the British-made jab.

So far regulators have spotted major blood clots in 242 people, of whom 49 died. But they are occurring more in younger adults, with a rate of around one in 60,000 under-40s.

Experts said the infection rate in the UK is now so low that the risk of the rare clots outweigh that of Covid in younger adults, who often only suffer mild illness. They will be offered the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines instead, so long as there is enough supply and it won't delay the rollout.

Anyone, no matter what age, who has been given their first dose of the AstraZeneca jab and didn't suffer the complication is being urged to come forward for their second.

England's deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam claimed the change would not affect the Government's target to vaccinate all adults by July 31.

'Our vaccine supply schedule will support the change without limiting the speed and scale of the vaccine roll-out,' he told a televised Downing Street press conference.

'I do expect that we are still on target to offer a first dose to all adults by the end of July.'

It was previously recommended on April 7 that those under 30 with no underlying health conditions should be offered an alternative to AstraZeneca. 

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