jab take-up | 

True level of Covid-19 vaccination among pregnant women 'still unclear', HSE reveals

Calls for maternity care restrictions to be eased
Professor Fergal Malone

Professor Fergal Malone

Eilish O'Regan

At least four in 10 pregnant women are opting to take a Covid-19 vaccine - but the true level of jab take-up is still unclear, it emerged yesterday.

The HSE said measuring the uptake of vaccines among pregnant women had been affected by the cyber attack on the health system.

"When the HSE was in a position to count this uptake, it was in the order of approximately 40pc," a spokesperson said. "We expect this uptake has increased since the cyber attack, because pregnant women can now be vaccinated by both their GPs and at vaccination centres."

It comes as maternity advocates have called on the Government to set out a detailed roadmap on how maternity hospital restrictions, aimed at reducing the risk of spreading Covid, will be eased.

Linda Kelly from Cork, who is campaigning for better maternity care, said the curbs around visiting and attendance by partners were leaving women feeling like second-class citizens.

There continues to be a variety of policies at maternity hospitals and units across the country regarding partners.

The call for clarity comes in the wake of the Rotunda Hospital yesterday citing low uptake of vaccines among pregnant women and partners for a decision to not lift restrictions.

A survey of inpatients (not including outpatients) carried out every two weeks, found only 39pc of expectant mothers and 41pc of their partners were vaccinated.

Rotunda Master Professor Fergal Malone said it meant "around 60pc of patients and partners who are walking around the Rotunda today are not vaccinated".

However, he added: "If we can get the vaccination numbers up, we will see it being safe to relax all restrictions."

Prof Malone insisted the hospital, in a cramped, outdated building, was still going beyond the minimum new visiting standards set by the HSE, and exceptions around the attendance of a partner were always made where the woman receives bad news.

Pregnant women are being urged to get vaccinated, with the first dose at or after 14 weeks of gestation and the second dose before the end of 36 weeks.

The HSE said evidence shows Covid vaccines are safe for the pregnant woman and her baby, and offer protection from becoming very unwell.

There is a risk to pregnant women who catch Covid-19 of Covid placentitis, and this has been linked to around six stillbirths - as well as to a small number of "near miscarriages" where timely care saved the baby.

However, Ms Kelly said: "Every other hospital is also not compliant in some area."

Campaigners are also calling for more use of rapid antigen tests. Ms Kelly said people are being left feeling stressed and anxious, with partners not being allowed in for early labour, although that could take as long as 12 to 24 hours.

Krysia Lynch, of the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services Ireland (Aims), insisted that "most women want the vaccine", adding: "The vast majority of women we are in contact with are not vaccine hesitant."

Several couples have shared their distress at their partner having to sit in their car, unable to offer reassurance. They include instances where a pregnant woman has been rushed to the hospital's emergency department with complications and finding the baby's heartbeat had stopped.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said: "If you are pregnant and you have concerns about taking the vaccine, speak to your GP, obstetrician or midwife for guidance, and for bespoke health advice for your pregnancy.

"Use trusted sources of information such as the HSE or Department of Health for the latest vaccine information."

The Midwives Association of Ireland called for alternative ways to provide antenatal, intrapartum and postnatal care. It acknowledged that the HSE and Government have a duty of care, but said it was critical that "we urgently focus on every woman's human right to have respectful and dignified care".

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