German vaccine panel to recommend Covid jabs for pregnant women

German vaccine panel to recommend Covid jabs for pregnant women
A midwife conducts a check-up of a pregnant woman in Essen on April 4th, 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Caroline Seidel
The German Standing Vaccines Commission (STIKO) has spoken out in favour of Covid vaccination for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

The independent body that advises the German government now recommends vaccination for pregnant women from the second trimester of pregnancy, and for breastfeeding women with two doses of an mRNA vaccine, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) announced on Friday.

The decision was made “after detailed consultation and evaluation of the available evidence”, RKI said.

The draft recommendation still has to be reviewed by the federal states and experts involved, so it is not yet a final recommendation, though it is expected to become one in the coming weeks.

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Up until this point, Germany’s vaccines commission has been reluctant to issue an outright recommendation for Covid vaccination for this group, citing insufficient evidence. 

However, Stiko has previously said that cases where pregnant women have been vaccinated by accident – for example, because they do not know they are expecting – are “not a cause for termination of pregnancy”.

Despite the lack of a general recommendation, some pregnant women in Germany have been given the vaccine after an individual consultation with their doctor – though it has often been a pot-luck scenario. 

In a statement issued on Friday, Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) welcomed the news.

“Pregnant and breastfeeding women now also have a clear recommendation for vaccination,” he said. “After many months with many unanswered questions, this finally means scientifically based certainty.”

READ ALSO: Are more babies being born in Germany amid the pandemic?

With vaccination rates stalling across the country, he also made an urgent appeal to pregnant and breastfeeding women to get their jabs.

“Ask your doctor. Get vaccinated,” he said. “You will protect yourself and your child.”

‘Vaccination is safe’

Virologists and health experts also responded positively to the developments.

Writing on Twitter, Lief Erik Sander, an infectious diseases and respiratory medicine physician at Berlin Charite hospital, described the recommendation as “good news”, adding that there was good evidence of the “high level of safety” of vaccinations.

“In spite of this, vaccination coverage remains too low,” he said. “We must do more.”

Doctors have been able to vaccinate pregnant women against Covid in the past, but the STIKO recommendation previously only included pregnant women with pre-existing conditions and a resulting high risk of severe Covid, or with an increased risk of infection due to their circumstances.

Frustrations over delay

In a survey conducted by The Local in June, some respondents complained that they were unable to decide for themselves whether they wanted to get their Covid shots during pregnancy due to the lack of a general recommendation.

“As a pregnant woman, I do not have the right to make my own decision and cannot even register for a vaccination,” said Julie Pardy, 38, from Hamburg. “Saying that vaccination is available to all persons over age 12 is incorrect as long as pregnant women are mostly excluded and dependent on doctors who refuse us.”

Anecdotally, other pregnant and breastfeeding woman have been able to get the vaccination, but until now much has depended on the views of the individual doctor. 

As an independent body, STIKO is tasked with making vaccination recommendations and looking at the benefits of various vaccines for both the individual and the entire population in Germany. In order to decide on an official recommendation, virologists evaluate international data and reputable scientific studies.

According to STIKO’s website, once a recommendation is made, it is considered the national medical standard.

Vocabulary

to speak out in favour of – aussprechen für 

breastfeeding women – (die) Stillende

second trimester – (das) zweite Schwangerschaftsdrittel 

to appeal – appellieren 

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