Pfizer vaccine safe for pregnant women, Australian experts say

The Pfizer vaccine has been approved for use by pregnant women. Picture: Shutterstock
The Pfizer vaccine has been approved for use by pregnant women. Picture: Shutterstock

Women should be offered the Pfizer vaccine at any stage of pregnancy, or while breastfeeding, according to new advice from the government's vaccine advisory body, and the association for obstetricians.

Until now, pregnant women were only to be offered the vaccine if they were at higher-risk of contracting COVID-19, such as working in healthcare or hotel quarantine.

On Wednesday, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said new data meant that advice could change.

"This is because the risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 is significantly higher for pregnant women and their unborn baby," the joint statement said.

The advice is significant because women in their 30s have been recorded as one of the most hesitant groups to get the vaccine.

Global data from large numbers of pregnant women had not identified significant safety concerns with mRNA vaccines at given at any stage of pregnancy, the statement said.

"Furthermore, there is also evidence of antibody in cord blood and breastmilk, which may offer protection to infants through passive immunity."

Pregnant women were encouraged to discuss the timing of their vaccination with their healthcare professional, and women who were trying to become pregnant didn't need to delay vaccination, or avoid becoming pregnant after vaccination, the statement said.

The College of Obstetricians said there was no evidence COVID-19 increased the risk of miscarriage or fetal abnormalities, but there was the possibility that the virus could transfer from a pregnant woman to the baby and increase the likelihood of a premature birth in the third trimester.

Bronwyn McClure, family partnership worker Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services in Canberra, said the changed advice would have an impact for some expectant mothers, but not many had been asking about the vaccine.

"We've had one mum who has been holding off until they get a better picture of what [the vaccine] may or may not do to bub, if it can effect bub or not," she said.

Ms McClure said it was good for expectant mums to have as much information as possible about the vaccine.

"It's up to the individual at the end of the day, when you're pregnant you want to protect your baby as much as possible."

President of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Vijay Roach said the advice was changed as more data had come in from countries overseas like Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States, where the vaccination program was much more advanced than in Australia.

"If you are eligible you can comfortably get this vaccination, and when you become eligible you can safely get this vaccination," Dr Roach said.

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The new advice comes the day after Western Australia announced it would open its vaccination program to all people above the age of 30. The Northern Territory has opened up its rollout to everyone above the age of 16, and South Australia has also widened its criteria for vaccination in regional areas.

Australian Medical Association president Omar Korshid said on Wednesday opening up the vaccine to more people would help with rates of vaccine hesitancy, but it was a complex area due to restraint on supply when priority groups still weren't fully vaccinated.

"That job is not done. We still have significantly number of elderly Australians in residential aged care who are not vaccinated. We have enormous number of aged care workers who are not vaccinated and people over 70 who are not vaccinated. That has to be the priority group if we are to limit any outbreak of COVID in the community.

Dr Korshid said it would be interesting to see what the impact of the wider rollout in Western Australia would be.

"But our call is for all states and governments to finish their high-priority people because they are those at most risk. They must be our priority."

Asked about Victoria's latest lockdown, Dr Khorshid said Australians must listen to the health advice from the experts, but that the answer to end lockdowns was simple.

"What every Australian can do, what they have in their own power, is to go and get vaccinated. That is the thing - if you don't like lockdowns, get vaccinated. If you don't like border closures, get vaccinated. If you want to travel internationally, go and get vaccinated."

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This story Pfizer vaccine safe for pregnant women, Australian experts say first appeared on The Canberra Times.