CORONAVIRUS vaccines from both Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech can now be given to pregnant women after experts changed their advice.
Women who are pregnant and breastfeeding had previously been told there was not enough evidence to warrant them safely taking the jabs.
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Speaking at a press conference today, experts Dr June Raine and Sir Munir Pirmohamed said this advice had now been revised.
Dr Raine said more data has now become available and in turn had been reviewed.
She added: “The Commission on Human Medicines has advised that the vaccine can be considered for use in pregnancy when the potential benefits outweigh the risks, following an individual discussion with every woman.
“And as the Covid-19 vaccine AstraZeneca is the same, women should always be discussing benefits and risks of having the vaccine with their health professional, reaching a decision together based on individual circumstances, and women who are breastfeeding can now also be given the vaccine, subject to that individual discussion.”
Sir Pirmohamed added that the safety profile of the new Oxford jab is similar to the Pfizer jab.
“There is limited data on this vaccine in pregnant or breast feeding women,” he said.
A full report is set to be published by the MHRA but the experts did not reveal what new data had come forward in order for the guidance to have been changed.
Despite reassurances from the experts, papers published on the government website for healthcare professionals, show that there is still “a limited experience with the use of Covid-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca in pregnant women.”
The guidance states that preliminary studies on animals did not indicate direct or indirect harmful effects on the pregnancy or the development of the embryo.
It does however state that these animal studies have not yet been completed.
It states: “The full relevance of animal studies to human risk with vaccines for Covid-19 remains to be established.
“Administration of Covid-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca in pregnancy should only be considered when the potential benefits outweigh any potential risks for the mother and fetus.”
The guidance also states that it is not yet known whether or not the vaccine is present in breast milk.
On the section on pregnant women and breast feeding it concludes: “Preliminary animal studies do not indicate direct or indirect harmful effects with respect to fertility.”
Sarah Gilbert, professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, said previously that trials were being designed to test the vaccine in pregnant women.
She said earlier this month: “It will be important to include pregnant women in the trials because they’re potentially at risk of more severe disease but that’s something that has to be done in a very careful manner.
“We have to complete particular toxicology studies before we can enroll pregnant women in the trials and that is all in the planning stages at the moment.
“So pregnant women will not be included in vaccine rollout initially, they will be one of the groups that will require further assessment.
“And then we would hope to add that to the groups that can receive the vaccine at a slightly later stage.”
Adam Finn, a professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol, says it is normal practice to avoid giving vaccines to pregnant women “unless there is evidence to support safety”.
He added: “This is because of the very high need to avoid risk to the mother, the baby and the pregnancy.
“Equally there is a need to provide protection to pregnant women against infection – accordingly it is a priority to obtain the necessary information to confirm whether this is safe. But this takes time.”
Charities welcomed the news that pregnant and breast feeding women could have the vaccine with further discussions with health care professionals.
Clare Murphy, Chief Executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, BPAS said some women have felt forced to choose between continuing to feed their baby in the way that works best for them and receiving the vaccine.
She said the new guidance means women can make their own choices based on their needs.
Ms Murphy said: “We also hope this updated approach, which follows that taken in other countries, will provide additional reassurance to women who find out they are pregnant shortly after receiving the vaccine.
“Unplanned pregnancy is common in the UK., but unplanned is not synonymous with unwanted – and we have been concerned that the guidance advising against use in pregnancy may cause unnecessary anxiety and result in the termination of otherwise wanted pregnancies.
“It’s vital that women receive good, evidence-based information to enable them to make their own vaccination and reproductive choices and this updated guidance reflects that approach.”