Doctors call for changes to vaccination booking system as pregnant women unable to find Covid jab

Expectant mothers left ‘in a very difficult position’

Kate Devlin
Whitehall Editor
Friday 07 May 2021 16:12 BST
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Covid-19 vaccinations are now open to under-45s

Pregnant women are struggling to access coronavirus vaccinations nearly three weeks after the government made them eligible for the jab.

Doctors’ leaders have now called for changes to the official booking system which is leaving expectant mothers unable to find an appropriate vaccine.

Official guidelines say they should preferably be offered the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, but the NHS National Booking Service says it does not have any information on how these can be accessed, and directs women to their family doctor.

But they have been left floundering after GPs were unable to provide the advice either.

The British Medical Association, which represents doctors across the UK, says it has now raised its concerns about the issue with NHS England. The Royal College of GPs has also called for the booking system to be amended to allow pregnant women to book non-AstraZeneca jabs.

Richard Vautrey, the chair of the BMA’s GP committee, said: “GP practices are not in a position to offer a choice of vaccine to pregnant women. They have never been able to do that. The system was not created to do that.”

He said that while the official guidance is that Moderna and Pfizer are “preferable” for pregnant women, no instruction on their use has been issued in the same way as it has for the under-30s and those with conditions such as allergies.

Part of the problem is that GP surgeries are not necessarily aware of which vaccine will be supplied or when, Mr Vautrey said. “We have asked NHS England to update the guidance so that everyone can get the necessary support,” he added. “GPs want to provide the best advice to their patients, but this current situation leave practices and pregnant women in a very difficult position”.

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said the booking system should be changed to allow pregnant women to book non-AstraZeneca jabs themselves.

He said: “GPs and their teams will try to help pregnant women access the right vaccine if they are able to… 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.”

Asked if the NHS was confident GPs had the necessary information, a spokesman for the NHS said: “If you are pregnant or think you might be, and have been invited for your Covid-19 vaccination, please contact your GP practice to make your appointment. This is to ensure your appointment is made at the correct location.”

Last month, in a change from its previous stance, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises the government, said that pregnant women should receive a coronavirus vaccine at the same time as the rest of the population.

However, the JCVI added it would be “preferable” for pregnant women to be offered the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines where possible. The decision not to recommend the AstraZeneza vaccine was not due to concerns about potential blood clots, but because of a lack of data for that jab, they said.

An official NHS letter on 17 April said that the National Booking Service would be updated “over the coming days” to support eligible pregnant women “to book an appropriate appointment”.

But charities representing women have expressed concern that no update has taken place.

The problem has left expectant mothers forced to share tips on WhatsApp groups as they try to track down suitable vaccines.

Amid the chaos, some have even delayed getting a jab for fear of a wasted journey, while already struggling in late pregnancy. 

The problem is becoming more acute as younger and younger people are offered a vaccine.

Under-45s, who make up the vast majority of pregnant women, became eligible for the jab last week.

Hundreds of thousands of women could eventually be affected. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) calculates there are more than 800,000 conceptions in England and Wales every year.

Stella Creasy, the Labour MP for Walthamstow, who is herself pregnant, said:  “Three weeks in now, with all the money that we are spending on technological systems, the fact that you can’t match the deliveries with the people that need to get them is troubling. I am at a loss to understand why it is taking so long.”  

Ros Bragg, director of charity Maternity Action, said: “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.”

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