Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer (CMO) has issued a fresh call for pregnant women to get vaccinated.
The warning comes as the spread of the Omicron variant continues to cause high case numbers in Northern Ireland.
Professor Michael McBride said that new evidence confirmed that having Covid-19 during pregnancy creates a “far higher risk than having the vaccine”.
The CMO was referring to a new study from the University of Edinburgh, which found that women who got Covid-19 towards the end of their pregnancy were at an increased risk of birth-related complications.
The same study, published in the Nature Medicine journal, suggested that pre-term births, stillbirths and newborn deaths were more common among women who had the virus 28 days, or less, before their delivery date.
The researchers concluded: “Our findings emphasise the need for continued efforts to increase vaccination uptake in pregnant women, especially in younger and more deprived populations.”
Professor McBride said: “This new study provides more evidence that having Covid-19 during pregnancy carries a far higher risk than having the vaccine, particularly in the later stages where it can have serious consequences for both mother and baby.
“The message is clear,” he added.
“Covid-19 vaccination is crucial in protecting women and babies from the life-threatening complications that can be associated with the virus.
“Anyone who is pregnant and has not received all of their vaccinations should not put off getting vaccinated until after their pregnancy.
“Omicron is continuing to spread throughout Northern Ireland, so if you are pregnant, or hoping to become pregnant, it is absolutely vital that you get vaccinated; this includes getting the booster.
“Vaccination is the most effective way you can protect yourself and your unborn baby.”
Dr Carolyn Bailie, chair of the Northern Ireland Committee of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, echoed his comments.
“The evidence clearly shows that pregnancy puts women and their babies at higher risk from Covid-19 and that is why we encourage women to get vaccinated at the earliest opportunity,” she said.
“Vaccination can be given at any stage of pregnancy, so please don’t wait until after your baby is born, it is vital that you and your baby are protected during pregnancy.”