Pregnant women in the early stages of gestation have been refused the Covid-19 vaccine despite a Government announcement last week that it was being made available at any stage of pregnancy.
The Health Service Executive says it has yet to "operationalise" the change in official guidelines, which follows a recommendation by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee. Previously, the vaccine was advised only for pregnant women at 14-36 weeks.
As a result, a number of pregnant women who attended walk-in vaccination centres in recent days were refused the vaccine because they had not reached 14 weeks’ gestation, according to Dr Vicky O’Dwyer, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Rotunda hospital in Dublin.
The HSE helpline told women the new guideline had not been implemented and therefore it was not accepting pregnant women outside 14-36 weeks for vaccination.
However, she added, some women in the early stages of pregnancy were successful in having the vaccine administered: “It was a mixed experience – some got it, some didn’t.”
Under Niac’s recommendation pregnant women should be offered the vaccine at any stage of pregnancy following “an individual benefit-risk discussion with their obstetric care-giver”.
Dr Cliona Murphy, chairwoman of the Institute of Obstetricians, said there was "always a bit of a lag" between advice coming from Niac and its operationalisation. At present the consent process allows for vaccination at 14-36 weeks only.
Some women who attended for vaccination at their GP or pharmacy may have been able to access the vaccine because a “slightly different process” is in place, she added.
Dr Murphy, who is also a member of Niac, said she has been in touch with relevant officials who are working hard to make the necessary IT changes. This was likely to happen within days rather than weeks, she said.
On Monday the HSE said it would be in a position to offer all pregnant women the vaccine by the end of this week.
“We’re now following the normal process to operationalise this new guidance, including updating the IT system, clinical guidance and consent information to ensure people availing of the vaccine have the best information possible to make an informed decision,” a spokeswoman said.
Niac recommended the change in advice to the Department of Health on August 30th. This was endorsed by the chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan the following day.
Meanwhile, a further 1,144 new cases of Covid-19 were reported in the State on Monday. The number of patients being treated for the disease in hospital was 384, with 59 in intensive care.
Nine further deaths of patients who had tested positive for Covid-19 were reported in Northern Ireland on Monday. The Department of Health said there had also been 1,764 new confirmed cases of the virus in the previous 24 hours. On Monday morning, there were 407 Covid-19 inpatients in the North, 46 of whom were in intensive care.
A number of further relaxations of Covid regulations in Northern Ireland were agreed by Stormont ministers.
Following a four-hour meeting of the Executive on Monday, ministers agreed that in domestic settings the maximum number of people who can meet indoors will increase to 15 from four households. In hospitality venues, the requirement for table service will be removed and customers will be permitted to stand while consuming food and drink in outdoor settings. Customers will also be permitted to take part in activities such as playing pool or using gaming machines. The restriction which permitted only ambient levels of music in venues will be removed and dancing will be allowed at post-wedding and civil partnership ceremony events. For indoor venues which host live events, the requirement to purchase tickets in advance will be removed, as will the need for audience members to have allocated seats. The changes will come into effect from 5pm on Friday and the Executive is set to meet on Thursday.
– Additional reporting PA