Covid: Pregnant women angry at long waits for boosters
Pregnant women say they are queuing for hours at busy vaccination centres for a booster jab, despite being at greater risk from Covid-19 if seriously ill.
All adults in England, Scotland and Wales have been offered a booster by the end of 2021.
Pregnant women have not been prioritised, but doctors say they should be first in line to protect them and their babies against Omicron.
The NHS is urging people to book a jab appointment to avoid waiting in queues.
And the UK’s vaccine advisory committee, the JCVI, said women who were pregnant and already had two vaccine doses were included in the accelerated booster programme.
However, the charity Pregnant Then Screwed said thousands of pregnant women had “encountered unnecessary barriers” which had “left many without the protection they need”.
“Setting up vaccination sites close to antenatal clinics is a great way to encourage uptake,
but they must be staffed by vaccinators and not take midwives away from their core work, particularly in the light of workforce shortages in maternity services.”
In pain and needing to pee
Valerie van Mulukom, who lives in Oxford, and is 32 weeks pregnant, cycled 30 minutes to her nearest walk-in centre this week because she was worried boosters would run out.
She was left “absolutely despondent” by having to queue outside for one-and-a-half hours, while suffering with pelvic pain and feeling increasingly thirsty and hungry.
She was then allowed to wait in line indoors which made her tense because of the risk of infection.
“I’ve only eaten inside a restaurant twice in the past two years,” she says.
“I’m so worried about my own health and the health of my baby. I feel like I constantly need to fight to be looked after.
“We are clinically vulnerable – why are we being ignored?” Valerie asks.
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Jane (not her real name), who is 34 weeks pregnant with her first child, told the BBC she also waited for an hour-and-a-half in Belfast to get her booster.
Despite being “massive” and stewards counting people waiting in line, she wasn’t invited to move to the front.
“I would have appreciated it,” she says. “If I test positive I’ll end up going into hospital by myself.”
On social media, pregnant women have talked about waiting in the cold with young children, having no access to toilets and feeling faint after being on their feet for too long.
Some vaccination centres are allowing pregnant women to jump the queue but because of high demand, official NHS advice is to book a booster to avoid disappointment.
‘Encourage uptake in antenatal clinics’
All adults in the UK aged over 18 are being offered a booster vaccine three months after their second dose, although booking arrangements vary across the four nations.
It’s in response to fears over the heavily-mutated variant Omicron, which is spreading rapidly in the UK and could lead to a large wave of infections.
Studies have found boosters are needed to give the best protection – up to 75% – against infection, but two vaccine doses are still thought to protect against serious illness from Covid.
Dr Mary Ross-Davie, from the Royal College of Midwives, said: “Because of the increased risk of Covid to women and their babies, it’s vital that pregnant women are now prioritised and encouraged to take up their vaccine and booster dose.”
She added: “Setting up vaccination sites close to antenatal clinics is a great way to encourage uptake, but they must be staffed by vaccinators and not take midwives away from their core work, particularly in the light of workforce shortages in maternity services.”
Dr Edward Morris, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said they were “disappointed” that pregnant women have not been prioritised for the booster vaccine.
He said more than half of pregnant women who catch Covid-19 do not develop symptoms.
But pregnant women who do develop severe symptoms are more likely to have pregnancy complications, including having a stillbirth and giving birth prematurely – although the numbers are still very low.
Good safety record
JCVI chairman Prof Wei Shen Lim said: “A high proportion of women who are pregnant remain unvaccinated. These women are at higher risk from Covid-19 than those who are vaccinated.
“The latest data continue to show a good safety record from Covid-19 vaccine use in pregnant women.
“We strongly encourage pregnant women to come forward and get their first and second vaccine doses.”
A recent survey of 4,000 pregnant women by Pregnant Then Screwed found nearly three-quarters had received two doses of a vaccine, but official data suggests the figure could be much lower.
Many still appear to be confused on the advice around vaccines. In the survey, 42% said a health professional had made them question the safety of the vaccine, while one in five said they felt judged by a doctor, nurse or midwife for wanting to have a vaccine.
A recent report shows that more than 98% of pregnant women who are admitted to hospital are unvaccinated.