Calls for action as Covid vaccination misinformation targets pregnant women

Kristin Hall
Source: 1News

There are calls for the Government to do more to protect pregnant women from Covid-19 as misinformation targeting them ramps up.

The Ministry of Health doesn't know how many pregnant Kiwis are unvaccinated, despite them being much more at risk of getting seriously ill from the virus.

New Zealand College of Midwives midwifery advisor Claire MacDonald said there was “a really major, sophisticated, well-funded misinformation campaign coming from overseas and being adopted in New Zealand”.

“I have seen a rise in misinformation targeted at pregnant women, it's hugely fear-based”, she said.

This week, University of Auckland epidemiologist Simon Thornley retracted a paper in which he incorrectly linked the vaccine to miscarriages.

In a statement, Thornley and co-author Aleisha Brock said their paper titled ‘Spontaneous Abortions and Policies on Covid-19 mRNA Vaccine Use During Pregnancy’ included a calculation that “is not justified and does not represent the true risk of miscarriage given exposure to the vaccine in early pregnancy”.

“We unreservedly apologise for any alarm caused by the publication of the paper,” the pair said.

“We have asked the publisher to retract it.”

The Hawke's Bay DHB has had to put a warning out to the public after similar misinformation linking miscarriages, stillbirths and neonatal deaths spread in that region.

“Every miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death is a tragedy for the family involved. To use these tragedies to push an anti-vaccination agenda and to reduce confidence in vaccine safety is a despicable act,” paediatrician Dr Philip Moore said.

A pregnant mother.

During a protest organised by the Freedom and Rights Coalition in Christchurch on Saturday, a former midwife took to the stage to argue against the vaccine mandate, making several untrue claims.

“Not once has the government told us how to protect and look after our health, not once,” she said.

Hastings midwife Jean Te Huia said that sort of messaging can affect the confidence pregnant people have in the vaccine.

“In Hawke’s Bay right now, there's over 150 nurses and midwives who are refusing to get their second vaccine," she said.

"If a health professional is resistant to the vaccination then they're more likely to be listened to.

"Pregnant women are likely to hear messages from multiple people, they are going to listen to people they trust most, that’s their LMC midwife who's always looked after them or who’s looking after them right now.”

The Ministry of Health said 61 of New Zealand's current community Covid-19 cases are pregnant, and four of those pregnant cases have had to be hospitalised.

It said of the 61 pregnant covid cases, 41 people (67 per cent) had received no vaccine doses at all prior to testing positive for the virus.

Five pregnant cases (8 per cent) had received one dose less than two weeks before being reported as a case, six (10 per cent) received one dose at least two weeks before reported as a case.

Of the 61 pregnant cases, nine (15 per cent) were fully vaccinated before being reported as a case.

But, in general, the ministry said it doesn't know how many pregnant people have been vaccinated. It said it doesn't record that data for privacy reasons.

Te Huia and MacDonald say that needs to change.

“I think by using the Privacy Act as a way of restricting information to the communities where it’s most needed … I think that is something the ministry should rethink,” Te Huia said.

MacDonald said we “really need” to collect data on Covid-19, vaccination and pregnancy.

“This is a public health emergency and we know that pregnancy is a time of particular vulnerability to adverse outcomes.

"If we don't know what our rates of vaccination during pregnancy are we also don't know if our public health campaigns are working.”

She said she desperately wants to avoid seeing pregnant women in hospital with Covid-19.

A recent UK study of critically ill patients in hospital found one in six were pregnant and unvaccinated.

“What we know is during pregnancy if someone unvaccinated they have a much higher likelihood of moderate to severe infection and ICU admission," MacDonald said.

“We need to avoid that at all costs and that means getting our pregnancy vax rates up at all costs”.

Te Huia said she wants to see more public health measures targeted at Māori hapū māmā, including holding antenatal classes at places like marae.

“The messaging now has to be given by the right people in the communities at the coalface,” she said.

Why one mum got vaccinated

Wellington mum Kylie Munro got her second vaccination three weeks before she gave birth to her son Oscar. He’s now six weeks old and Munro said he’s happy and healthy.

Wellington mum Kylie Munro and Oscar.

“I made that decision to keep us all safe really, I wanted to do as much as I could to keep Oscar safe once he was born and to keep me protected in pregnancy.”

She said it was natural to worry about what you put into your body while pregnant, but she wanted to make sure the information she was getting about the vaccine was from legitimate sources.

“I like to check where my information’s coming from. I like to make sure it’s coming from professionals and that it’s sound. If I see something that questions that or goes against that I make sure I look further or look for other sources.”

Munro said she wants to see others who are pregnant get the vaccine while they can.

“You've got this window of time while you’re pregnant to get vaccinated and have that protection transfer to your baby.

“Once you’ve had your baby you can’t do that, I can’t give Oscar a vaccine right now, so do it while you can and know that they’ll be safer once they are born.”