Half of pregnant women attending maternity hospital decline Covid-19 vaccine

Rotunda master describes figure as ‘disappointing’ and says staff do their best to reassure people

Half of the pregnant women attending the Rotunda Hospital who were offered a Covid-19 vaccine have declined to take it, according to the master of the hospital.

Prof Fergal Malone described as disappointing the 50 per cent acceptance rate in the first week of vaccine rollout to expectant mothers and said he "would like to see it higher".

Some of the women who declined to be vaccinated expressed concern about the possible effects on their unborn babies, he told The Irish Times.

“We do our best to reassure people but maybe some don’t perceive the risk from Covid to be such a big deal,” he said.

“When I hear patients ask about what are the unknown risks to a baby, I say ‘we have known risks’ due to the possible impact of the virus on the placenta. The risk-benefit balance is tilted firmly in favour of the vaccine.”

Prof Malone referred to cases of Covid-related placentitis, which have been identified by Irish pathologists and obstetricians this year.

There have now been 11 documented cases of the condition, involving severe inflammation of the placenta, including seven that resulted in stillbirth, he pointed out. The other four cases are regarded as “near misses,” where emergency intervention resulted in a successful birth.

Two of the cases of placentitis occurred in the Rotunda. Prof Malone said that in another case in the hospital, a baby was delivered by emergency section and the placenta was found afterwards to be “riddled” with Covid-19 infection.

He said doctors were unable to put in place a clear surveillance programme for women who might be considered to be at risk, as there was a wide variation in cases affected. In some, the babies had been growing normally before the placenta became inflamed.

Surveys point to greater vaccine hesitancy among women compared to men. One recent study by NUI Galway found one in five young women are uncertain about getting a Covid-19 vaccine.

Under recent changes to the vaccination programme, pregnant women are being prioritised for vaccination with mRNA shots such as Pfizer or Moderna.

The latest advice states that pregnant women should be offered a vaccine between 14 and 36 weeks’ gestation, after they have consulted their doctor.

Covid-19 vaccines were not tested on pregnant women during clinical trials, but have been administered to more than 100,000 pregnant women in the US without any safety concerns being raised for the women or their babies.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) has concluded there is "no evidence" of Covid-19 vaccines having any negative effect on the foetus or fertility.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times