Doctors have stressed the importance of Covid vaccinations for pregnant women after a major review found the shots were not only safe, but reduced the risk of stillbirth by 15%.
Researchers at St George’s, University of London, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists analysed 23 published studies and trials that enrolled 117,552 pregnant women vaccinated against Covid, to assess the safety of the shots.
The vast majority of the women received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, which provided 89.5% protection against Covid infection seven days after the second dose. There was no evidence of greater risk from miscarriage, preterm birth or other pregnancy complications.
“We wanted to see if vaccination was safe or not for pregnant women,” said Asma Khalil, professor of obstetrics and maternal fetal medicine at St George’s hospital in London. “It is safe, but what’s surprising, and it’s a positive finding, is that there was a reduction in stillbirths.”
“So far, most of the data on vaccines in pregnancy have been about protecting the pregnant woman herself from Covid. Now we have evidence that the vaccines protect the baby too,” she added. The results are published in Nature Communications.
Almost all pregnant women admitted to UK hospitals for Covid treatment are unvaccinated. And while vaccine uptake among pregnant women rose from 23% in August to 54% at the end of last year, doctors believe thousands are still unvaccinated.
In December, the UK government’s vaccine watchdog, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, made pregnant women a priority group for jabs after studies found women were more likely to become seriously ill if they caught Covid while pregnant.
The infection is also linked to a greater risk of stillbirth and preterm birth. The vaccines appear to reduce the risk of stillbirth by protecting against severe disease, but the study found only hints that the vaccine reduced preterm births, too.
“The best way to protect pregnant women and their babies is to get the Covid vaccine,” Khalil said. “Even if a pregnant woman thinks they will be fine if they get Covid, that it will be mild for them, there’s a potential advantage for the baby.”
Edward Morris, the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said the paper provided further reassurance that Covid vaccination was safe in pregnancy.
“We know women have been hesitant about having the vaccine due to concerns over the effect on their baby. We now have strong evidence to show that the vaccine does not increase the risk of adverse outcomes and is the best way of protecting both women and their babies.
“We would recommend all pregnant women have the Covid-19 vaccine and the booster vaccine. Covid-19 is still prevalent and if you do get the virus when you’re pregnant then you are at higher risk of severe illness.”