Unvaccinated pregnant women accounted for nearly a fifth of the most severely ill coronavirus patients in England in recent months, according to health officials.
Between July and September, 17 per cent of Covid-19 patients who required a special lung bypass machine while in intensive care were mothers-to-be who had not received their first vaccine dose, NHS England said.
Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is used when a patient’s lungs are so damaged by Covid-19 that a ventilator cannot maintain oxygen levels.
While just six per cent of the women aged 16 to 49 who needed ECMO at the start of the pandemic were pregnant, nearly a third of women among that age group who required the lung bypass in recent months were unvaccinated mothers-to-be.
The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) called the statistics a “damning indictment of the lack of attention given to this vulnerable group as restrictions have eased”.
“We’ve been extremely disappointed to hear of so much misinformation and confusion about the vaccination programme and so little focus on what’s needed to keep vulnerable groups safe as restrictions have eased,” said the NCT’s director of impact and engagement, Sarah McMullen.
Health secretary Sajid Javid called the figures “desperately sad”, while England’s chief midwife Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent said it was “another stark reminder that the Covid-19 jab can keep you, your baby and your loved ones safe and out of hospital”.
Data from more than 100,000 Covid vaccinations during pregnancy in England and Scotland – and a further 160,000 in the United States – show there has been no subsequent harm to the foetus or infant, NHS England said.
Meanwhile, the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Dr Edward Morris, said “disproportionate” number of unvaccinated pregnant women in intensive care shows there is a “significant risk of severe illness from Covid-19 in pregnancy”.
The association is “urgently calling for all pregnant women to come forward for their vaccinations”.
Mother-to-be Claire Bromley was admitted to her local hospital in Kent with breathing difficulties just a few days after testing positive for the virus, and was then put on a ventilator while in a medically induced coma.
When the 33-year-old’s condition deteriorated, medics thought she might need an emergency C-section just 26 weeks into her pregnancy, and she was transferred to another hospital in London.
After nearly a month in hospital, she was allowed home in early August and is now recovering with her husband and their unborn child, who is doing well.
“I completely understand the hesitation not to get vaccinated when you are growing a child inside you, and, after experiencing two miscarriages before the pandemic, the fear of being pregnant again with the worry of Covid was sending my anxiety through the roof,” Ms Bromley said.
“But, after what happened, I can honestly say that the risk of not having the Covid vaccine far outweighs any doubts about having it.”
More than 81,000 pregnant women have received the first dose of a Covid vaccine, Public Health England data shows, and some 65,000 have received their second dose, according to NHS England.
Just over 683,000 births were registered in England last year, according to the Office for National Statistics.
“There is robust evidence showing that the vaccine is the most effective way to protect both mother and baby against the possibility of severe illness from Covid-19,” said Dr Morris, of the RCOG.
“We do understand women’s concerns about having the vaccine in pregnancy, and we want to reassure women that there is no link between having the vaccine and an increased risk of miscarriage, premature birth, or stillbirth,” he said.
England’s chief midwife added: “You can receive vaccination at any time in pregnancy, but the risks that unvaccinated pregnant women face of becoming severely unwell if they catch Covid-19 show exactly why we advise you to do so as soon as possible.”
Since the vaccine rollout began last year, almost every person who has received ECMO for coronavirus in the UK has been unvaccinated, according to NHS data.
Additional reporting by PA
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