Earlier this year, the government ended all restrictions put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19. The current strategy for handling the ongoing coronavirus crisis, known as ‘plan A’, involves encouraging vaccination, continuing the track and trace system and supporting the NHS and social care (Gov.uk, 2021a). However, it's clear that COVID-19 continues to have a significant effect on our lives. Cases of COVID-19 have been increasing since August, with almost 44 000 people testing positive on 27 October 2021 (Gov.uk, 2021b). Deaths from COVID-19 are also on the rise, with the last 7 days showing an increase of 5.9% in deaths within 28 days of a positive test. Various associations have called for the reintroduction of COVID-19 measures such as masks and vaccine passports, including the NHS Confederation (2021) and the British Medical Association (2021). This would be a move to the government's ‘plan B’.
Since July, nearly 20% of COVID-19 patients receiving treatment with a lung bypass machine have been unvaccinated pregnant women (NHS England, 2021). Additionally, pregnant women make up 32% of women aged 16–49 receiving extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, used when a patient's lungs are so damaged by COVID-19 that a ventilator cannot be used (NHS England, 2021). This cohort has been significantly affected by COVID-19, as have midwifery services everywhere, which have undergone dramatic changes to protect against COVID-19 and, like all healthcare services, have come under enormous strain.
But it's not all bad news. Research in China by Li et al (2021) found that pregnant women who contract COVID-19 early in their pregnancy are at low risk of experiencing severe symptoms. Additionally, pregnancy does not appear to increase the risk of severe COVID-19 (Li et al, 2021). This research has not yet been peer reviewed, and so should not be used to guide practice, but its results seem promising.
The NHS is encouraging pregnant women to get the COVID-19 vaccine, as it has been shown to be safe and effective. The vaccine is recommended by the Royal College of Obstetricians and the Royal College of Midwives, based on research conducted with over 100 000 pregnant women who received the vaccine (NHS England, 2021). While it is clear that we still have some way to go before we are completely out of the woods, hopefully we are moving forward. By advising patients to get vaccinated, midwives can make sure they are doing their part to tackle the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.