Unvaccinated pregnant women make up nearly 20% of the most critically ill COVID-19 patients in England, according to data released by the National Health Service on Monday.
Since July, approximately 1 in 5 coronavirus patients who received an intensive lung-bypass treatment, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), were unvaccinated and pregnant.
“The disproportionate number of unvaccinated pregnant women in intensive care demonstrates that there is a significant risk of severe illness from COVID-19 in pregnancy,” Dr. Edward Morris, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in a statement on the NHS website.
The NHS is now pleading with pregnant women to get vaccinated as soon as possible, pointing to mounting safety data that counters unfounded fears that the vaccine poses severe risks to their health.
The NHS reports that “over 100,000 COVID vaccinations in England and Scotland, and a further 160,000 in the U.S., show there has been no subsequent harm to the fetus or infant.”
Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, chief midwifery officer for England, called the announcement “another stark reminder that the COVID-19 jab can keep you, your baby and your loved ones safe and out of hospital.”
The vaccine was made available in December of last year, and access was given to pregnant women at high risk of serious complications from COVID-19. But other pregnant women were advised against the vaccine while data surrounding its side effects was gathered.
British health regulators finally advised in April that pregnant women should receive the vaccine, citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed about 90,000 pregnant vaccinated women in the United States had no emerging health issues. Now, more than 81,000 pregnant women have received their first dose of the vaccine, according to Public Health England.
“But there is still more to be done,” Britain’s health secretary, Sajid Javid, said in a statement Monday, adding that the COVID vaccine is generally considered safe for pregnant women.
It is now recommended by the Royal College of Obstetricians, Royal College of Midwives and the U.K. Tetralogy Service.
COVID-19 poses a significantly higher risk to women who are pregnant and outweighs the risks of women getting vaccinated, according to safety data released by the CDC in August. In the United States, vaccination rates among pregnant individuals are far lower than the rest of the population, the CDC reported last month, with only 31% of pregnant women having received both shots before or during pregnancy, as of Sept. 18.