Pregnant women excluded from COVID vaccine plan
Pregnant women, breastfeeding mums and children will be excluded from Australia's COVID-19 vaccination program until there's better evidence of safe dosages.
As the Morrison Government prepares to roll out the vaccine to millions of Australians from next month, expectant mothers and children are not part of the road map.
That's despite the fact that the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is calling for pregnant women to be included in the clinical evaluation trials to speed up the approval process.
Also, some pregnant women in the UK and the US are already receiving the vaccine.
Infectious diseases expert Professor Peter Collingnon from the Australian National University told news.com.au that it was safer to wait.
"It's hard to see why the vaccine would be worse with pregnancy, but the trouble with these new vaccines if you want to see some data,'' Professor Collingnon said.
"In any case, pregnant women would not be at the front of the queue, unless they are working in hotel quarantine.
"So, particularly with Australia, where we've got minimal cases of community transmission, I think if we can wait a month or two for more data. I think we would probably have that data by winter."
Professor Allen Cheng, the chair of the Advisory Committee for Vaccines and Victoria's deputy chief medical office has previously cautioned the safety of vaccinating pregnant women is one of the unknowns with the new vaccine.
"We want to know that there is the correct amount of vaccine in each dose. We want to know they are free from contamination. That there are no differences between different batches or those made in different factories,'' he said.
"Whether they can be used safely in pregnant or breastfeeding women. Whether they can be given with other vaccines such as the flu vaccine."
According to the World Health Organisation, the first vaccine to be used in Australia - the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 mRNA vaccine - is "safe and effective".
However, there are specific populations for whom vaccination is not recommended due to limited data and most pregnant women and children under 16 fall into that category.
"Pregnant women are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 than non-pregnant women, and COVID-19 has been associated with an increased risk of preterm birth,'' it said.
"However due to insufficient data, WHO does not recommend the vaccination of pregnant women at this time.
"In case a pregnant woman has an unavoidable risk high of exposure (e.g. a health worker), vaccination may be considered in discussion with their healthcare provider."
The WHO also recommends avoiding pregnancy for two to three months post-vaccination.
"If a breastfeeding woman is part of a group (eg health workers) recommended for vaccination, vaccination can be offered. WHO does not recommend discontinuing breastfeeding after vaccination,'' it said.
Because the vaccine has only been tested in children above 16 years of age there are no plans to offer it to younger children for now.
When Australia's health department chief Professor Brendan Murphy outlined the road map for the vaccine last week he said the question of vaccinating children will be decided down the track.
"We will go on to cover the rest of the general population and the very last group that we might consider is children,'' Professor Murphy said.
"We know children are at the lowest risk of getting COVID and transmitting COVID and the vaccines currently haven't been properly tested in children and that will be the last group that we'll consider in the fifth phase."
Originally published as Aussies excluded from COVID vaccine plan