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In reversal, WHO says pregnant women can get COVID-19 vaccine

Agency says no reason to believe there are risks that would outweigh the benefits of vaccination for pregnant women; Israel already recommends inoculation in 2nd, 3rd trimesters

A health worker administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine to a pregnant woman at the  Clalit Health Services, in Tel Aviv on January 23, 2021(AFP)
A health worker administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine to a pregnant woman at the Clalit Health Services, in Tel Aviv on January 23, 2021(AFP)

Reversing previous guidance, the World Health Organization on Friday said that pregnant women can be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“While pregnancy puts women at higher risk of severe COVID-19, very little data are available to assess vaccine safety in pregnancy,” the agency said.

“Nevertheless, based on what we know about this kind of vaccine, we don’t have any specific reason to believe there will be specific risks that would outweigh the benefits of vaccination for pregnant women,” the international body said.

“For this reason, those pregnant women at high risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 (e.g. health workers) or who have comorbidities which add to their risk of severe disease, may be vaccinated in consultation with their health care provider,” the statement read.

A health care professional prepares a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Sheba Tel Hashomer Hospital in Ramat Gan, January 12, 2021. (Oded Balilty/AP)

Experts from the agency had previously said the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccinations were not recommended for pregnant women, unless they were at risk of high exposure.

Israel’s Health Ministry has advised pregnant women to get the coronavirus vaccine after a number of women expecting a baby fell seriously ill, with several babies delivered prematurely via Caesarean section due to life-threatening risks to the mothers and the children.

The ministry said this week that women in their second or third trimesters should be inoculated, but that women in their first trimester should wait unless there were other risk factors.

The ministry said that the recommendation not to vaccinate in the early weeks of pregnancy was not due to any concerns over increased risk, but rather worries that any bleeding or miscarriage, of which there is a higher risk in the first trimester, could be mistakenly linked to the vaccine.

The United States’ Centers for Disease Control also said this week that pregnant women should be permitted to receive the vaccine, noting that they are at increased risk of severe disease or death from COVID-19.

“People who are pregnant and part of a group recommended to receive the COVID-19 vaccine may choose to be vaccinated,” the agency said in a statement.

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