There are very few things in this world more powerful, or precious, than a mother’s love for her child. As a proud mum of three, I know we all want what is best for our children – to protect and shield them from anything that would do them harm, especially a deadly virus.
Yet, the latest statistics from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists show that almost one in every five of the most critically ill Covid-19 patients are expectant mums who have not received their first jab. Equally alarming, only 5.5 per cent of pregnant black women were vaccinated, despite clear evidence that this group is more likely to be hospitalised with Covid.
At the very beginning of the vaccine roll-out, the initial guidance to pregnant women was not to be vaccinated until more information was available. But the science is now crystal clear – the vaccine is safe for pregnant women. There have now been over 100,000 Covid-19 vaccinations during pregnancy in England and Scotland, 160,000 in the US, and millions worldwide. Not a single legitimate concern has been raised about their safety.
So why the lingering vaccine hesitancy? Much of the blame lies at the door of private messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram. Group chats have proven popular breeding grounds for fake news, with dubious articles from even more dubious sources being shared and reshared at the touch of a smartphone.
And despite the many promises of the social media giants, we know that misinformation and disinformation is still spreading like wildfire on their platforms. Algorithms drive up engagement with toxic content, allowing scare stories specifically targeting pregnant mothers to take hold.
The Government is doing its bit to tackle these harmful narratives. The combined firepower of a Rapid Response Unit in the Cabinet Office and a Counter Disinformation Unit at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is being brought to bear on hundreds of false or misleading stories every month. But we recognise that vaccine hesitancy covers a spectrum of people.
As the minister for faith as well as equalities, I’m proud to champion our work with faith leaders to help overcome vaccine hesitancy in mothers from religious and ethnic groups. This work has been helped, in no small part, by the thousands of mosques, synagogues, churches, and gurdwaras transforming themselves, once again, into vaccination centres as part of our national fightback against the omicron surge.
We know that some women, fearing that additional medication could interfere with their pregnancy, want to wait until after they give birth before getting vaccinated. I can empathise, having been hypersensitive to taking medication for my high blood pressure during my pregnancies.
But all the data tells us that delay could be the difference between life and death. It tells us that pregnant women are more likely to fall seriously ill with Covid-19 than non-pregnant women of the same age. It tells us that Covid-19 in pregnancy is linked to a higher risk of premature delivery, with one in five babies born to mothers with coronavirus symptoms admitted to neonatal units.
The brilliant midwives and obstetricians of our NHS obviously have a vital role to play in helping mothers overcome vaccine hesitancy and in turning those figures around. That is one of the reasons why we appointed the world-leading obstetrician professor Lucy Chappell as the chief medical advisor for the Department of Health.
It is Prof Chappell’s job to ensure that pregnant women, as well as those considering pregnancy, know the vaccine is safe and will be their first line of defence against the virus. We could not have a more capable clinician spearheading this work.
I am proud to live in a country with one of the best healthcare systems in the world. I trust the NHS and I know Telegraph readers do too. My message to them and to expectant mothers everywhere is that Covid-19 is deadly but the vaccine is life-saving. Getting vaccinated provides that vital double protection for you and your baby.
Kemi Badenoch MP is minister for equalities