Doctors and midwives from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) warned on Wednesday, Covid-19 could pose a greater risk to women in the later stages of pregnancy, prompting concern from parents-to-be in England as the likes of compulsory mask wearing ends on Monday.
From this date, social distancing guidance will no longer apply. This advice applies to everyone, including pregnant women.
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The Government has said as pregnant women from 28 weeks remain at higher risk of serious illness if they catch Covid-19, they should think carefully about precautions they can continue to take such as travelling and shopping at quieter times of the day or limiting close contact with people until 21 days after their second dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
For Amber Laroombs, a 38-year-old expecting her first child, loosening restrictions is “negligent”.
Her desperation to get a second dose of the Moderna vaccine as soon as possible after opening up has led her to contact her local MP.
Under Government guidelines she has to wait at least eight weeks to have a second dose of the vaccine, meaning she will be 37 weeks pregnant by the time her second dose takes effect in mid-August.
She told i: “I feel it’s entirely negligent of the Government to be completely reopening on 19 July, it’s inconsistent with current infection and hospitalisation levels, and it also unfairly puts younger people at risk.
“I could have had the jab earlier based on my age, but waited for guidance to change around pregnant women to be updated. My the time it had in April, I had missed my slot based on age.
“Trying to move my second jab forward has been incredibly stressful. I’ve tried 119, I’ve tried going to a walk in clinic, I’ve tried contacting my local council and my GP, but everyone just pushes me back into system with no flexibility, risking an even bigger delay.
The policymakers are just ignoring pregnant women, along with any other vulnerable groups to be honest. It seems to be a case of everyone for themselves, survival of the fittest
“I don’t want the country to remain closed down, I don’t want pubs and other venues to lose further business, I simply want to feel as safe as possible in the final two months of my pregnancy,” she added.
Holly, 37, will be in her third trimester when restrictions lift on 19 July. The Londoner is seven months pregnant and has had one vaccine dose so far, and is hoping to rearrange her second vaccination so she will be fully protected by the time she gives birth.
She told i: “I’m in my third trimester, which we know is the riskiest for pregnant people if they get Covid-19.
“I don’t want to have to rely on the goodwill of strangers in choosing to distance, wear a mask, and so on, to stay safe but I feel this is the situation I’ve been left in.
“I understand pregnant people have been classified as vulnerable but at the same time those of us who have chosen to be vaccinated are being left to wait many weeks between vaccine doses along with the general population. I don’t think this is right.
“Scrapping mandatory masks and social distancing makes me very worried. I will essentially be avoiding inside spaces which are busy after 19 July, for example only going to essential shops and when they are quiet. My world is going to get smaller,” she added.
Sarah, 38, said she “can’t fault” her GP surgery for the support she’s received, but “there wasn’t enough information being sent out by healthcare providers” about dealing with Covid-19 and the vaccine for pregnant women.
She told i: “This is my third pregnancy. I suffered two losses previously in 2019, and that has made me even more anxious and cautious throughout this pregnancy.
“I’ve felt a lot of stress around trying to make the right decisions, trying to give this baby the best chance.”
Like the other mothers-to-be, her main source of information has come from a live chat with experts ran by Stella Creasy and campaign group Pregnant then Screwed.
She said: “My healthcare team weren’t at all forthcoming with information or advice, I appreciate they had little information themselves at the start when guidelines changed.
“I wasn’t given any leaflets, I had to ask during my midwife appointment for any information, and was just given a basic line of ‘guidance says pregnant women can now be offered the vaccine, but the decision really is down to individuals on whether they want to take it up or not, depending on their level of risk/exposure.’
“The policymakers are just ignoring pregnant women, along with any other vulnerable groups to be honest. It seems to be a case of everyone for themselves, survival of the fittest,” she added.
The delay in the vaccine rollout for pregnant women may have upended these women’s plans, but for many, it has led them to decline the Covid-19 vaccination.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) found around 58 per cent of pregnant women are refusing the vaccine, according to its internal data.
Dr Mary Ross-Davie, director for professional midwifery at the RCM, said: “The delay to getting official information and advice out to pregnant women, as well as to healthcare staff delivering the vaccine, has undoubtedly caused further confusion among pregnant women.
“It’s something that both the RCM and RCOG had been lobbying heavily for since the vaccination programme began.
“But we can’t turn back the clock, we can only look to providing the right support and guidance to women who are pregnant now. We would of course have liked to have seen a widespread Government public information campaign about the vaccine in pregnancy to address the misinformation that is out there.
“We urge women to speak to their midwife or doctor to get clear and factual information, or to go to the official government website.”
Maternity experts have warned that more needs to be done to encourage pregnant women to get vaccinated against coronavirus following “confusion” around whether the jab was safe for pregnant women at the start of the rollout, with campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed warning parents-to-be are still being given “dangerously mixed messaging” from health professionals.
Leah Hazard, a midwife in Scotland, said she “feels” for her English colleagues as “there’s been such mixed messaging.”
She told i: “Midwives across the UK are already seeing a rising wave of Covid cases among birthing women in many cases as their partners and children have brought the virus home from sporting events or school.
“Pregnant people have already been disproportionately harmed in this pandemic and I fear this problem will be exacerbated as ‘freedom’ changes will in effect leave all such vulnerable populations hung out to dry.”
Joeli Brearley, founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, said: “Pregnant women are the only vulnerable group not prioritised for the vaccine.”
“This, coupled with a lack of clear information on the risks and benefits of being vaccinated when pregnant, has led to a very small proportion receiving two doses and a large proportion now refusing to have the vaccine as they wrongly believe it will cause a miscarriage or other foetal abnormalities,” she told i.
“This is deeply worrying as ‘freedom day’ approaches and the Delta variant is on the rise.
“We know that pregnant women are more likely to end up in ICU, their baby is more likely to be born pre-term and, very tragically, their baby is more likely to be stillborn.
“Where is the clear messaging from the Government that this group of women are a priority and must be kept safe? It feels as though they have been an afterthought throughout this pandemic.’’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We recognise this is a uniquely difficult time to be an expectant mother.”
The spokesperson told i: “Thanks to the phenomenal success of the vaccine rollout in weakening the link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths, we are seeking to move from an approach of rules and regulations to one of guidance and personal responsibility.
“We encourage pregnant women to discuss the risks and benefits of vaccination with their midwife, obstetrician or GP and consider precautions they can continue to take or limiting close contact with people until 21 days after their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.”