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Covid: What’s the advice for pregnant women and those who haven’t had the jab?

By Philippa Roxby
Health reporter

image sourceGetty Images

Pregnant women are being urged to get vaccinated against Covid, after a rise in the number of mothers-to-be in hospital with the virus.

Take-up for the vaccine has been very low among pregnant women.

Health professionals are now being asked to make them a particular focus of concern among adults who have not yet been jabbed.

What is the advice to pregnant women now?

Previously, pregnant women were offered a vaccine in line with other people their age and, because safety data on the vaccines in pregnancy was scarce, they weren’t prioritised.

But fewer than one in 10 pregnant women in England has had one jab, leaving hundreds of thousands of women unprotected.

The Delta variant is causing more serious illness from Covid which means unvaccinated pregnant women and their babies are at risk.

In the last three months alone, 171 pregnant women with Covid needed hospital care. Data has shown that none of them had had both jabs.

More than 55,000 pregnant women across the UK have received at least one dose of the vaccine, with no safety concerns, says NHS England.

Which children will be vaccinated?

Children at higher risk from Covid and those within months of turning 18 will be offered the Pfizer vaccine in the UK.

The case for vaccinating children has been studied by the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

It recommends vaccinating children aged 12-15 if they are at higher risk due to:

  • Severe neurodisability (which could include conditions such as cerebral palsy, autism or epilepsy)
  • Down’s syndrome
  • A severely weakened immune system, including some children with cancer
  • Profound and multiple learning difficulties

Those at higher risk who are already aged 16 or 17 can be vaccinated under existing rules.

The JCVI has also recommended immunising 12-17-year-olds who live with people who have a suppressed immune system, as a form of indirect protection.

Young people who are within three months of turning 18 will also be offered the jab.

Around 370,000 children will be eligible, but the vast majority of children in the UK, who are considered low risk, will not be offered the vaccine for now.

Who is currently being vaccinated?

All over-18s in the UK can get a vaccine.

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How do I get my second jab?

In England, the recommended gap between first and second jabs is eight weeks for those under 40.

A number of walk-in clinics offer second doses without appointment.

In Scotland anyone whose second appointment is more than eight weeks after their first can rebook it via the NHS Inform website or by calling 0800 030 8013.

In Wales, the government says vaccination clinics “are accelerating second doses”, and people will be contacted by their local health boards in due course.

What’s the latest on booster jabs?

Millions of people most vulnerable to Covid-19 may be offered a third vaccination from September.

The JCVI has issued new guidance on who should get booster jabs, if data suggests they are needed.

It says third jabs should be offered to prolong the benefits of the first and second injections.

The JCVI will publish final plans before September, taking into account:

  • the latest Covid situation
  • data from re-vaccination trials
  • how well the vaccines are working over time
  • emerging variants
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Who might get a third jab first?

The JCVI says a booster vaccine and the annual flu jab should be offered as soon as possible from September to:

  • immuno-suppressed adults aged 16 and over
  • those living in residential care homes for older adults
  • all adults aged 70 or over
  • adults aged 16 and over considered clinically extremely vulnerable
  • frontline health and social care workers

The JCVI says the following groups should be offered a third booster with “equal emphasis” on giving the flu vaccine as well:

  • all adults aged 50 and over
  • all adults aged 16-49 years in an influenza or Covid-19 “at-risk group”
  • adult household contacts of immuno-suppressed individuals

Most younger adults will receive their second Covid-19 vaccine dose by late summer, so the benefits of booster vaccination in this group will be considered by the JCVI at a later date.

Boosters should ensure protection built up in the population does not decline through the winter months – and that immunity is maximised to provide additional resilience against variants.

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Is Covid vaccination compulsory?

For most people, getting vaccinated is not mandatory, although the government is urging everyone who can have the vaccine to get it.

Vaccinations will be compulsory for staff at care homes in England, and may be extended to include more NHS staff.

Some private companies have said their staff must be vaccinated, including the Bloomsbury publishing company, Pimlico Plumbers, and the airline Cathay Pacific.

Adults who were fully vaccinated in the UK, and under-18s, no longer have to self-isolate after visiting amber-list countries (apart from France). From 2 August this will also apply to travellers who have been fully vaccinated in the EU and the US.

By the end of September, full vaccination will also be a condition of entry for getting into nightclubs and some other venues in England.

What vaccine will I get?

The UK is using vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNtech, Oxford-AstraZeneca, and Moderna.

People under 40 are being offered Pfizer or Moderna rather than Oxford-AstraZeneca because of concerns about a possible connection with extremely rare cases of blood clots.

But the UK’s medicines regulator says the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks for most people.

A single-dose Covid vaccine made by Janssen has also been approved for use in the UK by the medicines regulator. Twenty million doses are due to arrive later this year.

Do vaccines work against the Delta variant?

The Delta variant is believed to be around 60% more infectious than the previous dominant variant in the UK, the Alpha. It’s also thought to be twice as likely to result in hospital admissions.

However, analysis by Public Health England (PHE) shows that two doses of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine are highly effective at preventing hospital admissions for infected patients.

Vaccine developers are able to update their jabs to target new variants. Oxford researchers have begun to test a new version of the AZ vaccine (targeting the Beta variant first detected in South Africa) in volunteers. Results are expected later this year.

Can you mix and match different vaccines?

At present, official guidance says everyone should get the same vaccine for both doses. But in rare circumstances – if only one vaccine is available, or it’s not known which was given for the first dose – a different vaccine can be used.

If you have already had a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, you should also have a second dose. Only those who suffered a rare blood clot should not, the regulator says.

How many vaccine doses are there?

The UK has ordered eight vaccines and expects to receive 517 million doses.

These include another 60 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine (on top of the original order of 40 million) to be used as part of a booster programme in the autumn.

Vaccines supplied by CureVac will be designed to protect against the most concerning new variants.

What about people with allergies?

A very small number of people have experienced a severe allergic reaction – known as anaphylaxis – after the Pfizer vaccine.

You should discuss any serious allergies with your healthcare professional before being vaccinated.

Most people will not be affected in any way, although side-effects with all vaccines are possible.

The most common ones include a sore arm, headache, chills, fatigue and nausea.

They are part of the body’s normal immune response to vaccines and tend to resolve within a day or two.

media captionWhy it is normal for some people to experience short-term side effects from Covid-19 vaccines

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