Experts in pregnancy and women’s health have been concerned at the number of mothers-to-be who have not been immunised.
Four women speak about how they felt about getting vaccinated against Covid while pregnant, with some overcoming initial hesitancy amid confusing medical advice.
‘I booked my first jab after reading about the number of pregnant people in hospital’
Jenny Lappin, a 35-year-old marketing manager in Reading, booked an appointment to get her first dose on Monday after reading that one in six of the most critically ill patients were unvaccinated pregnant Covid patients. “Initially, I felt strongly that I did not want to have the vaccine while pregnant due to the lack of information available when I first fell pregnant. I also felt apprehensive because the guidance kept changing but they never explained why,” said Lappin, who is 25 weeks pregnant. “I was worried about unknown long-term effects.”
During her initial appointment with her midwife, when she was eight weeks pregnant, Lappin didn’t feel encouraged to get the jab. “I had to bring it up with her – she never really broached it. She said it was a very much personal choice and all down to individual circumstances – it [the jab] wasn’t particularly encouraged. I didn’t leave that appointment going: ‘I really should be seriously considering getting it.’”
A subsequent appointment with her midwifery team three weeks ago made her think more seriously about getting vaccinated. “They said: ‘You should definitely be thinking about the risks of not getting it,’” Lappin said, adding that she had also been reading “as much evidence-based information” as she could around the risks. “Then seeing the news article pop off my phone on Monday morning about the rate of the hospitalisations at the moment – that was just the final thing that I needed to push me over the edge and say the risk of not having the vaccination is greater than the unknown risks.”
‘I delayed getting my second jab and got Covid’
Haya, a 33-year-old company director in London, had her first dose before she became pregnant. She was keen to get her second Pfizer dose as soon as she could, but said she was discouraged by some healthcare staff. “Even when the guidance changed in August, and there were lots of headlines encouraging pregnant women to get the vaccine as soon as possible, my midwives were still very cautious and not particularly enthusiastic about it”, she said.
“They said that I should wait until after my first trimester, even though I wanted to get it at as soon as I could, at 11 weeks. It was frustrating and confusing to read something on the NHS website and then have some NHS staff say something different.”
Haya ended up reluctantly waiting until the first trimester was over to get vaccinated. “I waited because that seemed to be the vague consensus among the various healthcare experts I spoke to – but that turned out to be not soon enough to prevent me getting Covid,” said Haya, who contracted coronavirus while 13 weeks pregnant. “Luckily, it was a mild case, I think because I was single-jabbed, but I would rather have skipped it.”
Haya, who then had her second dose at 18 weeks, thought she would have been discouraged by the attitude of medical staff if she hadn’t been keen on getting vaccinated. “I imagine if I didn’t have that attitude I would have definitely been put off by it. Even when I went to get my jab, they said: ‘Oh, you’re pregnant, have you considered the decision, have you spoken to all your medical staff?’ It didn’t match up with the stuff I’ve been seeing in the media about the government encouraging you to go out and get it. Face to face, I haven’t had seen anybody that pro-giving it to pregnant women.”
‘Pregnancy is just a really scary time’
Polly Gooch, a 27-year-old business analyst in Norwich, had her first dose of the Moderna vaccine in early September, when she was 14 weeks into her pregnancy. She was unsure about it, and wasn’t offered guidance from healthcare staff on whether to get the jab. Watching TikTok videos by other pregnant people made her more uncertain, as some appeared to carry anti-vaccine messaging.
“Loads of it is quite veiled and by people who probably aren’t ardent anti-vaxxers themselves,” said Gooch, who is 21 weeks pregnant. “Because pregnancy is just a really scary time anyway, and because you are told that everything is incredibly dangerous, from eating soft cheese to having a bath above a certain temperature, the messaging online seems to be: if you’re not sure about something, just don’t do it.”
Gooch said the replies to videos she was watching on TikTok were particularly discouraging. “I’ve read comments below some pregnancy videos, with people saying really vicious things like: ‘If your baby dies because you got the jab, you deserve it.’”
However considering the fever she suffered when she caught Covid prior to her pregnancy, and the risk that could carry for her baby, she decided to have the first dose. “Ultimately neither me nor my baby are going to fare well if I end up on a ventilator due to Covid.”
Gooch is waiting to get her second shot. “My midwife has only ever spoken to me once about it, and just to ask if I’d had it or not. But the doctor at the vaccine centre was really good – before he did it, he said: ‘I think you’re making the right choice,’ which was nice.”
‘I’ve not seen any negative things about getting the vaccine in pregnancy’
Catriona, 35, who works in aviation in Aberdeenshire, was due to get her second dose just after she became pregnant in June. She decided to delay it until she was into her second trimester as she couldn’t find enough advice about having the vaccine during early pregnancy.
She then decided to bring this forward when, in August, she saw the rising daily cases in Scotland and reports of unvaccinated pregnant women being hospitalised. “I got to 10 weeks and more news came out on how many unvaccinated pregnant woman were being admitted to hospital from the virus,” Catriona said. “This all scared me and I started thinking: the vaccine could be a risk but, on the other hand, if I were to get the virus, I could also be putting my baby and I at risk. At this point I decided to get the vaccine at 11 weeks pregnant.”
Her family and husband encouraged her to get the jab, but Catriona found the decision difficult. “In this time that we’re living in, whatever decision you make is entirely up to you. It was very hard for me to make that choice and I felt guilt once I had the vaccine because I thought: ‘Have I just put my baby in danger’. And I know that might sound ridiculous to people who are for the vaccine, and I am for it – but in pregnancy, I’m not so sure.”
She feels increasingly that she made the right call. “I’ve not seen any negative things about getting the vaccine in pregnancy, so as the pregnancy goes on – even though I don’t think I’ll ever be sure – the more that I think I did the right thing, especially when you see statistics about pregnant women being hospitalised.”