LONDON (AFP) - British health authorities have urged more pregnant women to get coronavirus jabs after a national study found that the Delta variant appeared to increase their risk of severe symptoms.
England's top midwife on Friday (July 30) urged pregnant women to get the jab as new data showed an increase in severe illness among pregnant women hospitalised with virus symptoms.
Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, chief midwifery officer for England, wrote to general practitioners and midwives urging them to encourage expectant mothers to get a jab.
She said she was calling on pregnant women to "protect themselves and their babies".
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the Royal College of Midwives have also recommended vaccination of pregnant women.
Public Health England has said it recommends pregnant women get Moderna and Pfizer vaccines because they have been given to more than 130,000 pregnant women in the United States.
A paper based on national data compiled by the UK Obstetric Surveillance System, published online on July 25, found that the proportion of pregnant women admitted to hospital with moderate to severe infection rose "significantly" after the Delta variant became dominant in May.
The paper by University of Oxford researchers found that pregnant women hospitalised during the Delta wave were more likely to get pneumonia, with a third requiring respiratory support.
"It is very concerning that admissions of pregnant women to hospital with Covid-19 are increasing and that pregnant women appear to be more severely affected by the Delta variant of the disease," said the study's chief investigator Marian Knight, professor of maternal and child population health at the University of Oxford.
None of more than 3,000 pregnant women admitted to hospital with virus symptoms since February was fully vaccinated, the study said.
The study did not look at pregnant women with mild infections who were treated outside hospital.
Britain has recommended vaccination of pregnant women since April but take-up has been very low compared with the general population, the paper said, blaming misinformation fuelled by changing advice early in the vaccine roll-out.
"The findings of this study strongly highlight the urgent need for an international approach to tackle this misinformation and improve uptake of the vaccine during pregnancy," it said.
A survey by the RCOG in May found that 58 per cent of pregnant women offered the vaccine had declined it, with most saying they feared harming the baby or were waiting for more information on safety.