Organisations representing obstetricians, GPs and midwives say the system to let people choose their vaccines is not viable, with pregnant women being passed “from pillar to post” as they try to book jabs.
As the government announced that people under 40 would also be offered an alternative to the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine where possible, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) said the system for pregnant women – who are advised to have the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines – was not working.
“The latest government guidance for pregnant women is to contact their GP for advice on how to receive the appropriate vaccine. However, GP practices are reporting that they don’t have the ability to do this, leaving pregnant women feeling frustrated and helpless as they are passed from pillar to post,” said Dr Pat O’Brien, the RCOG vice-president.
Last month, pregnant women were advised by the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to have the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines where possible, after real-world data from the US showed about 90,000 pregnant women had been vaccinated without any safety concerns.
But since the announcement pregnant women have faced confusion, delays and wasted trips, with the online booking system giving no option to pregnant women to specify what vaccine they want, according to leading charities.
“We urge the government and the NHS to ensure there is a system in place that enables pregnant women – including those over the age of 40 who have already been invited to book their vaccine – to easily access alternative vaccines,” said O’Brien.
The British Medical Association, which represents doctors across the UK, has also raised its concerns with NHS England. Richard Vautrey, the chair of the BMA’s GP committee, told the Independent: “GP practices are not in a position to offer a choice of vaccine to pregnant women. They have never been able to do that. The system was not created to do that.”
Joeli Brearley, of the campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed said pregnant women were facing “insurmountable challenges” when trying to access it, including medical professionals giving sometimes inaccurate information.
“Pregnant women are telling us that this is affecting their mental health,” she said. “The government has had a baby blind spot throughout this pandemic – why are pregnant women being forgotten about again?”
Ros Bragg, the director of the charity Maternity Action, said the lack of clear guidance on how to access advised vaccines had led to “confusion among women, and has led to wasted trips, unnecessary travel and delays in getting the vaccine”.
The issue was highlighted by the Labour MP Stella Creasy who wrote on Twitter that she had not been able to chose her vaccine when she was called to book in for her jab. On Friday, she tweeted: “[So] many GPs flagging problems they are having getting healthcare sorted for pregnant women and vaccines booked. Such a critical time in a child’s life this must be sorted ASAP.”
An NHS spokeswoman said the NHS had communicated JCVI advice to GPs immediately. They said: “If you’re pregnant, or think you might be, speak to your maternity team or GP surgery to discuss your vaccine appointment so that it can be arranged at a site offering the Pfizer/BioNTech or the Moderna vaccine, which is preferable for pregnant women.”