Shaveta Pandya is 30 weeks pregnant and clinically vulnerable. She has been waiting for a coronavirus vaccine since February. In April, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said pregnant women should be offered the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine. But, like many others, Shaveta remains unable to book because the system doesn’t allow pregnant women to specify which vaccine they want leaving them making wasted trips to vaccine centres or unable to get an appointment. While charities and MPs, including Stella Creasy, apply pressure for this to be changed, women like Shaveta are still waiting.
I first got the invitation to receive the coronavirus vaccine in February because I am in a high risk group. As someone who has asthma and coeliac disease, if I was to contract coronavirus, it could have dire consequences on my spleen and immune system.
At the time, I tried to book the first dose but was refused by my pharmacy, which said it was not vaccinating pregnant women despite government guidelines then stating that it was the woman’s choice.
Last month, the JCVI updated the official advice to state both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were now recommended for pregnant women. Although none of the vaccines are considered unsafe for pregnant women, there is more safety data for the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine, which has been safely administered to pregnant women in the US, than AstraZeneca, which has not been widely tested in pregnancy.
As well as this updated advice, the government had begun inviting under-45s, the age bracket most pregnant women in the UK fall under. So once again I tried to book myself in, going online to try through the NHS website. But it wouldn’t let me specify which vaccine I needed.
The problem I and many other pregnant women continue to face is that the official booking system doesn’t distinguish which vaccine centres in our local areas offer the approved jab. Instead, it asks women to contact their GP directly for this information.
After two hours on the phone, I was none the wiser. I’d gone between 119, my GP and the midwife, and no one could help me.
So I called my GP to explain, only to be told they don’t know which centres are administering the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, that they are not dealing with any coronavirus-related enquiries, and that I need to call 119.
When I eventually got through to somebody at 119, they told me they also don’t have the information on which vaccine is being given where, and that I should call my GP. Confused, I said I had just done that.
The woman on the phone replied: “We just can’t help you; we can’t give you that advice”.
I then contacted my GP for a second time, who insisted she could not help and recommended that I speak to my midwife. The advice seemed strange to me because I couldn’t understand why my midwife would have that information.
Despite already being on the phone for more than an hour, I then spoke to my midwife, who said she has absolutely no idea where women in my area are going for their coronavirus vaccines.
After two hours on the phone, I was still none the wiser. I’d gone between 119, my GP (multiple times) and the midwife, and no one could help me. I’d done exactly as the NHS advises - contact my GP and maternity team - and gotten nowhere. It feels like GPs aren’t equipped with the right information. So where does that leave people like me?
Given approximately 800,000 women in England and Wales fall pregnant every year, the lack of information will affect so many people.
Since first being refused the vaccine in February I have been in a state of panic because my biggest fear is myself or my husband getting coronavirus and me giving birth alone. This is my first baby, and because of that, I’m already filled with anxiety. I’m also worried about staying in the hospital overnight and being around anyone who hasn’t taken the vaccine.
The government are saying the vaccine is available for pregnant women, but that’s not the case.
I feel extremely frustrated. The fact that it’s in black and white, that pregnant women can take the vaccine, but the access still isn’t there is really worrying.
As I’m giving birth in July, I’m already on a very tight time scale to try and get both doses in, but I don’t think that will be possible now.
Although the JCVI advises women should be vaccinated with the rest of the population (dependent on age and clinical risk) it feels like pregnant women have been pushed to the bottom of the vaccine priority list.
The government is saying the vaccine is available for pregnant women, but from my experience that’s not the case. I actually don’t know what my next step is, I feel hopeless.
I’m almost resentful to try again with my GP when I know I won’t get anywhere and it will just cause increased stress levels for me.
As it stands, there’s nothing I can do; I can’t have my vaccine.