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Low vaccine uptake by pregnant women and partners delays lifting of maternity restrictions

Prof Fergal Malone said in the hospital only 39pc of inpatients and 41pc of partners have been vaccinated against Covid-19

Katie Smyth and her daughter Jill were amongst a group of parents representing the Association for the Improvements in the Maternity Services who staged a protest outside The Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital earlier this year. Photo by Steve Humphreys

Professor Fergal Malone in Dublin's Rotunda Hospital

Ciara O'Loughlin

Maternity restrictions will be eased if there’s a higher vaccination uptake among expecting mothers and their partners, the master of the Rotunda has said.

Prof Fergal Malone said in the hospital only 39pc of inpatients and 41pc of partners have been vaccinated against Covid-19.

Speaking to RTÉ Radio One this morning, he said restrictions will “absolutely” be eased if this percentage significantly rises.

"There was a comment from one of your speakers saying ‘sure aren’t most people vaccinated in the community’- and that’s a common myth about maternity services,” he said.

Professor Fergal Malone in Dublin's Rotunda Hospital

“While 75 to 85pc of the general population are vaccinated, that’s not reflected of what’s going on in maternity hospitals.

"If we can get the vaccination number up towards that range then absolutely you’ll see it being safe to relax all restrictions.

"So, I’d encourage every single pregnant woman to please get vaccinated, and their partners.”

Despite the HSE promising strict rules on maternity services would soon be lifted, the Rotunda Hospital said yesterday that it will not be fully easing it’s restrictions as “it is not yet safe”.

It said this is not only due to the low vaccination rates but because the hospital is an old building.

"The Rotunda Hospital building is 275 years old, and it is not possible to ensure the minimum one metre physical distancing in many of our inpatient and outpatient areas,” a statement read.

"Providing safe physical distancing in areas like the Outpatients Department, Emergency Department and our multi-bed rooms is impossible.

"The current restrictions on some attendances by companions in certain areas of the hospital is an attempt to reduce the footfall in these areas and to reduce the amount of people our patients come into contact with while in the hospital.”

Maternity restrictions have been eased across the country as per HSE guidelines, however, they haven’t been fully lifted.

The Rotunda said it is following these guidelines, which state partners should be allowed at early pregnancy assessment unit visits, the anomaly scan, on inpatient wards, and on the neonatal intensive care unit at certain times.

They are also allowed for the entire duration while the patient is in labour on the delivery suite.

However, the Rotunda said it cannot accommodate partners to visit at any other time besides those outlined.

“We always strive to accommodate partners if there are individual extenuating circumstances, as we have done throughout the pandemic,” it said.

“However, given our unique challenges, we will continue to make individual risk assessment decisions that are specific and appropriate to the Rotunda, even when these may appear to differ from guidelines that suit other smaller, less busy, and more modern hospitals.”

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