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Why is the BBC plugging Covid vaccine in pregnancy before trials are complete?

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THE BBC began suggesting it was safe for pregnant women to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine three months ago. At that point Pfizer had not started its trials in pregnant women and its reproductive toxicology tests were not complete. 

Nevertheless, on January 12 Woman’s Hour devoted a section of the programme to ‘dispelling’ fears that the Pfizer jab could harm women’s fertility or pregnancy (the AstraZeneca was not available then), a message they have continued to push.

Presenter Emma Barnett announced in the programme: ‘In a recent survey a quarter of 18-34-year-old women would say no to the Covid jab, citing effects on their fertility.’ She went on to say that Woman’s Hour, with 3.7million listeners, a quarter of them under 35, were going to get to the ‘bottom’ of whether or not pregnant women should be concerned about getting the jab. She assured listeners: ‘It’s not because there is a danger – it’s because it hasn’t been proved that there isn’t.’

Confusing? What she meant was that just because results from pregnancy and fertility studies (not initiated until February) were not available, and that there was therefore an absence of evidence, prospective mothers should not worry.

To help build her case she was joined by Lucy Chappell, Professor in Obstetrics at King’s College London. However the presenter’s line of questioning tied the doctor in knots and left her making contradictory statements which listeners found confusing.

Professor Chappell said: ‘I don’t think there is any evidence that they [Covid vaccines] can affect fertility. I can understand women’s concerns and it’s always good to get more data on that but having looked into all the queries into fertility, I can’t see any basis to them.’

Professor Chappell went on to admit that only high-risk groups of pregnant women were being targeted for the jab.

She said: ‘The position is for pregnant women: on 30/12/2020 the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) released a statement saying that two groups of women could be considered for vaccination. The first of these are those who work in a care home or who are frontline healthcare workers with underlying health conditions. The second group are clinically extremely vulnerable with heart and kidney conditions and at greater risk of complications.’

Ms Barnett asked Professor Chappell whether it should be considered ‘your duty to get the vaccine’ – a coercive statement that should have no place in making healthcare decisions. Professor Chappell prefaced her response with: ‘When we have the evidence . . .’

Ms Barnett wanted to push the point home and stated: ‘You can have this [vaccine] if you’re not pregnant and trying for a baby. We are saying very clearly there are no effects on fertility.’

Professor Chappell replied: ‘We have no evidence of an effect on fertility.’

The absence of evidence of harm is not the same as no evidence of harm. Fast forward and to date the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have received 65 reports from women who have lost their unborn babies post-vaccination. Forty-two have suffered spontaneous miscarriages and 2 stillbirths after receiving the Pfizer vaccination and 19 have suffered spontaneous miscarriages and 2 stillbirths after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccination. We don’t know how many of those women took the vaccine having been reassured by Woman’s Hour’s discussion with Professor Lucy Chappell.

Diligent doctors and scientists do not understand why the BBC are pushing vaccines on pregnant women when there is no clear evidence that they will not harm them or their babies. They are also baffled about why, at the end of last week, the government changed their advice to pregnant women from ‘those who are pregnant should not routinely have this vaccine’ to advising that pregnant women should be offered the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as the rest of the population, based on their age and clinical risk group, when the clinical trials are still not complete. 

The UK Medical Freedom Alliance (UKMFA), a team of medical professionals, academics, scientists and lawyers, have expressed their concerns for pregnant women in open letters to Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives, and to the JCVI. In an interview with the writer, a spokesman said: ‘None of the vaccine manufacturers have completed their studies into how their Covid vaccinations can effect pregnant women. The only information we have is from the USA from the Centers for Disease Controland Prevention (CDC) self-reporting V-Safe app. There are only 4,500 women registered and only 90,000 reports. This information is not from a clinical trial, which should be rigorous. There is no follow up and no detailed information, but it is being used by our government to reassure pregnant women and women of childbearing age that it is safe. This is so far from good science it’s incredible.

‘How is it possible to have any credible information when the vaccine has not been in circulation for nine months? We are just learning about vaccine harms that we didn’t know about a month ago. Blood clots caused by the AstraZeneca were flagged up only last month. The truth is, is that we have no idea whether any of the Covid vaccines can effect fertility, the foetus or development of a baby.’

Despite the lack of evidence, Ms Barnett made clear on the January programme her views on women of childbearing age who felt undecided about whether to have a Covid vaccine. She suggested that anti-vaxxers were ‘unpatriotic’ and she wondered if it was ‘a duty’ to get the vaccine. She read out a message from a concerned listener who said: ‘My mum is an antenatal teacher and she’s told me and my cousins that she doesn’t want us to get the vaccination over concerns over fertility.’ Dismissing the concerns, Ms Barnett responded: ‘I hope they are listening to what our expert is saying.’

After the programme, Pfizer issued this statement: ‘Pregnant women were not allowed to enrol in our trial, so available data on the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine candidate administered to pregnant women are limited.

‘We plan to specifically evaluate the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine candidate in pregnant women in a study starting in Q1 [January to March] 2021, once developmental and reproductive toxicity studies are complete’ (email to writer).

This week Pfizer confirmed that they have not completed studies into pregnant women (email to writer). An AstraZeneca spokesperson confirmed that their studies are ongoing and said: ‘The MHRA has stated that administration of COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca in pregnancy should only be considered when the potential benefits outweigh any potential risks for the mother and foetus’ (email to writer).

The NHS say: ‘There’s no evidence that if you’re pregnant you’re more likely to get seriously ill from coronavirus. But pregnant women are in the moderate risk (clinically vulnerable) group as a precaution.’ 

A concerned listener complained to the BBC about the Woman’s Hour programme. The BBC responded: ‘The BBC does not take a position on any story that we cover, and the programme did not seek to persuade or push women into vaccination, but merely intended to accurately highlight what is fact, and what is fiction. We feel the programme was in line with this intention and was accurate, balanced and fair throughout.’

What should women think? It seems to me to be pretty clear: whatever the BBC’s Emma Barnett thinks our ‘duty’ is,if you are pregnant or wanting to get pregnant, it can’t be worth the risk of taking an experimental vaccine that you do not need for which the trials have barely begun. 

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Sally Beck
Sally Beck is a freelance journalist with 30 years of experience in writing for national newspapers and magazines. She has reported on vaccines since the controversy began with the MMR in 1998.

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