The NHS’s vaccine booking site hasn’t just failed to keep people’s vaccine status private but has also failed to allow pregnant women to book the vaccines they have been advised – both by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and by NHS England – to receive.
The JCVI says that it is “preferable” for pregnant women to be “offered” the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines “where available” due to there being more “real-world data” from the U.S. on these vaccines and because “more research is needed” on the AstraZeneca vaccine when given to pregnant women. “Where available” is not strong enough for NHS England. GPs at sites that are only administering the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine were told last month to cancel all appointments for pregnant women and to direct them to sites where alternative vaccines are available.
Regardless of the advice given, it has not been possible, for this whole time, for pregnant women to book specific vaccines through the NHS vaccine booking system – an issue which is, at long last, being amended (though how long this might take is anyone’s guess). The Guardian has more.
After the Government announced that people under 40 would be offered an alternative to the AstraZeneca vaccine where possible, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) warned the system for pregnant women – who are advised to have the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines – was not working.
Charities said pregnant women had faced confusion, delays and wasted trips, with the online booking system giving no option to pregnant women to specify what vaccine they wanted…
Professor Wei Shen Lim, the JCVI chair, said he hoped NHS England would be able to overcome difficulties in pregnant women accessing the Pfizer or Moderna jabs. “I understand there have been some reports of difficulties in accessing the vaccines,” he told a televised briefing. “I certainly hope that operationally NHS England will be able to overcome those difficulties in access.”
A letter to health providers from senior bosses, including the National Medical Director for England, Professor Stephen Powis, published on Friday, said: “NHS Digital will be amending the national booking service in the coming days to allow pregnant women to book into specific vaccine appointments in line with JCVI guidance.”
Before news of the letter, Dr Pat O’Brien, the RCOG Vice-President, had said: “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.”
Joeli Brearley, of the campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed, said pregnant women had faced “insurmountable challenges” when trying to access the vaccine, 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.”
Worth reading in full.