Lack of data about vaccine poses difficult choice for pregnant women

Doctors and pregnant women have been left in the dark with little data still available on the COVID-19 vaccine

Research shows pregnant women are at higher risk of severe illness from the coronavirus, but as is common in early drug trials, they will be excluded from the initial COVID-19 vaccine to avoid any potential risk to the foetus.

As a result, doctors and pregnant women have been left in the dark with little data still available on the COVID-19 vaccine.

Malta’s health authorities said that since there are no clinical safety data regarding pregnant women, children under 16, and women who are breastfeeding, the vaccine will as yet not be recommended for these groups. At the beginning of January, however, pharmaceutical company Pfizer said clinical trials involving pregnant women were expected to begin this year.

“The situation surrounding the COVID vaccine is changing rapidly – the studies relating to pregnancy, and the COVID vaccine are limited, and the majority of research has been conducted on mammals and animals, and not on humans,” public health expert Dr Tanya Melillo told MaltaToday.

“However, from the research, we have seen, the vaccine has not raised any concerns, regarding pregnancy, or breastfeeding.”

Dr Melillo said that the decision to take the vaccine when pregnant should be taken between the individual and their doctor. “One has to decide whether it would be more beneficial for an individual to take the vaccine: is the individual more at risk from getting COVID? Are they immune-compromised? Are they prone to illness? Are they in danger of pre-term labour? In those cases, it might be more beneficial for them to take the vaccine,” Dr Melillo said.

In other cases however, it would be better to postpone taking the vaccine until after the birth.

Dr Melillo also said that the limited data has shown there is no risk for breastfeeding after taking the vaccine. “To show how fluid the situation is – in recent days, Irish medical experts said that pregnant women can receive the vaccine if both doses are given between the 14th and 33rd weeks of pregnancy,” she said.

Dr Melillo recommended that if an individual takes the first dose of the vaccine, and then discovered they were pregnant, they should wait to take their second dose until after the birth. “We do recommend doing a pregnancy test before taking the vaccine if there is any doubt,” she advised.

She also recommended that an individual should wait two weeks after taking the second dose of the vaccine before trying to get pregnant – six weeks from their first dose.

Expectant mothers are being urged to limit their exposure to COVID-19 as much as possible. “Pregnant staff at Mater Dei have been deployed to areas where there is minimal exposure,” Dr Mellilo said, adding that it was important that all persons around a pregnant woman also take the vaccine when available.

“To protect each other, we must reach herd immunity – which is why it’s important all those around pregnant women to take the COVID vaccine. The rest of the population needs to protect each other, and you’re not just taking it for yourself, you’re taking it to help others.”

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