NHS chief explains why pregnant women are likely to get seriously ill with Covid-19

By Alice Peacock

Pregnant women comprise a group particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 because of the strain the virus places on organs within an “already pressurised system”, an NHS chief has explained.

Close to a fifth of the most critically ill coronavirus patients in England in recent months were unvaccinated pregnant women, new NHS England figures have shown.

Between July 1 and September 30, 17% of Covid patients receiving treatment through a special lung-bypass machine were mothers-to-be who had not had their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

NHS England said this figure has risen from 6% at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.

The organisation said data also showed that pregnant women accounted for 32% of all females aged between 16 and 49 in intensive care on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) - used when a patient's lungs are so damaged by Covid that a ventilator cannot maintain oxygen levels.

Health officials are urging mothers-to-be to get their jabs (Getty Images)

As health officials urge expectant mothers to get their jabs, NHS England's medical director of primary care has explained why pregnant women make up such a substantial chunk of those Covid-19 patients in need of intensive medical treatment.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Dr Nikki Kanani said pregnancy puts "quite a strain" on the heart and lungs and if pregnant women get Covid-19 then that puts even more pressure on an already pressurised system.

That was why almost 20% of people with coronavirus who are having extra support on critical care are pregnant women who are unvaccinated, Dr Kanani said.

"So the evidence is really clear - if you're not vaccinated yet and you're pregnant please take up that lifesaving offer of protection."

"I'm a mum of two and you read so much about what you should and shouldn't do during your pregnancy,” she added.

"My advice is clear, the best thing that you can do is to take the vaccine if it is offered to you, and if you're unsure because of all of the advice out there, speak to a medical professional who can talk about your concerns - and like the 81,000 other pregnant women - you may well feel reassured enough to have that really important first dose of protection."

Dr Kanani’s comments come as NHS England’s chief midwife, Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, said the latest data was "another stark reminder that the Covid-19 jab can keep you, your baby and your loved ones safe and out of hospital".

NHS England said data from more than 100,000 Covid vaccinations in pregnancy in England and Scotland, and a further 160,000 in the US, show there has been no subsequent harm to the foetus or infant.

Mother-to-be Claire Bromley spent almost a month in hospital with coronavirus and said she feels the risk of being unjabbed "far outweighs any doubts" about getting a vaccination.

The 33-year-old, who had not been vaccinated, 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 her 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.

But her condition improved and she was allowed home in early August, almost a month after first being admitted, and is now recovering with her husband and their unborn child, who is doing well.

She said: "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.

"But, after what happened, I can honestly say that the risk of not having the Covid vaccine far outweighs any doubts about having it."

Public Health England data shows more than 81,000 pregnant women have received the first dose of a Covid vaccine, and around 65,000 have received their second dose, NHS England said.

Sarah McMullen, director of impact and engagement at the NCT, said: "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.

"We strongly encourage pregnant women to consider having the Covid-19 vaccination and have information on our website to help them make a decision."

Health Secretary Sajid Javid added his voice to calls encouraging pregnant women to have the jab, saying the latest figures on those in hospital are "desperately sad" and that vaccines will give "significant protection".

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