Surprisingly few doctors and midwives in Australia were recommending pregnant and breastfeeding women have the COVID-19 vaccine when it became available, new research has found, despite international medical consensus that it was safe and beneficial.
Australia's peak expert panel on immunisation, ATAGI, says the COVID vaccine is safe and recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women, with significant benefits for both mother and child.
However, a survey of maternity care workers in Australia conducted in early 2021 found that only around 18 per cent of doctors and 6 per cent of midwives said they would recommend the vaccine to pregnant women.
More than half (54 per cent) of the practitioners ignored the explicit advice from ATAGI urging vaccination for breastfeeding women at the time, saying they were unlikely to recommend the vaccine to those women.
The survey also found that around 35 per cent of the women seeking advice said they would not take the vaccine when it became available.
At the time of the survey, national guidelines recommended that pregnant and breastfeeding women with co-morbidities should consult with their doctor to consider whether the vaccine would be appropriate for them in pregnancy.
The peer-reviewed research from Curtin University, Deakin University, the Burnet Institute and the University of Melbourne involved more than 850 participants, including doctors, midwives, pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Midwives and midwifery students had significantly higher levels of uncertainty regarding their intentions to be vaccinated compared to the other groups.
There was a lesson for future health messaging, the researchers wrote, which must target not only the public but the health professionals responsible for routine maternity care.
"Addressing practitioner hesitancy must be performed in parallel campaigns and should focus on providing resources to communicate the current safety data to their patients," they wrote.
"The mixed responses regarding intentions to be vaccinated from the professional cohort in our study who were already eligible for vaccination, points to the need for further professional and public health messaging to provide timely information to enable health professionals to participate in vaccination offered to them with confidence."
At the time of the survey, public health officials and ministers were combating vaccination misinformation about safety for pregnant women. Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy urged the public to go to trusted sources.
"There is a lot of misinformation out there. It is simply untrue. Many of the anti-vaxxer conspiracy theories that are out there, you just need to ignore them and get the best advice that you can find," Professor Murphy said in March.
"There is no evidence that these vaccines are harmful in pregnancy. So if someone has a vaccine and turns out to be pregnant, we don't need to worry."
Studies from around the world have not found any side effects specific to pregnant women or their babies.
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