Health chiefs decide Portugal’s mums-to-be can be vaccinated against Covid-19 towards end of 2nd trimester

Mums-to-be in Portugal can be vaccinated against Covid-19 from 21 weeks into their pregnancies.

This is the latest guidance coming out of Portugal’s DGS health authority which balances it up against three provisos: the women should be over the age of 16, there should be a ‘morphology ultrasound’ first (this means a detailed scan looking at the baby’s body, the position of the placenta, the umbilical cord, the amniotic fluid around the baby, and the mother’s uterus and cervix) and there should be a 14-day gap between the administration of “any other vaccine” (pregnant women are often encouraged to take particularly tetanus, whooping cough and flu vaccines during their pregnancies).

Válter Fonseca, coordinator of the Vaccine Technical Commission against Covid-19, tells Lusa that “recent studies have demonstrated that the vaccines are safe during pregnancy and capable of inducing the production of protective antibodies in pregnant women”.

He said health centres are the optimum places for these vaccines to be administered as they have “many years of experience in vaccinating pregnant women”.

The logistics of how pregnant women can sign up for their vaccines “are being worked out and will be published in the next few days”, says Lusa.

Válter Fonseca adds that “pregnancy is a state associated with increased risk of (developing) Covid-19 seriously”, stressing that the vaccines used in Portugal are “inactive, just like the many others that have been used safely for years as part of the national vaccination programme”.

At the same time, the rules on vaccinating vulnerable people previously infected with the virus are changing. Say reports today “the (DGS) document also determines that in old people’s homes, units of continued integrated care (RNCCIs) and similar institutions, people who have been infected can be vaccinated three months after notification of infection (not six, as previously stipulated).

The document also allows for the interval between doses to be ‘brought forwards’ in the case of people having to make urgent or unavoidable trips abroad (examples given include “situations of necessity for health care outside the country, diplomatic or State missions, humanitarian missions, work or academic commitments” – both of which will need to be proved).

Another exception will be for people on immunosuppressant medication or undertaking “other clinical acts” (again these will have to be ‘duly explained’).

Válter Fonseca concluded that the principle of precaution must remain as “it is not yet totally demonstrated that (vaccines) can impede transmission of the virus”. Indeed, it is fairly well documented that they can’t (click here for the latest orientation from the World Health Organisation).

Curiously, the WHO advice doesn’t totally gel with that of Portugal’s DGS. When it comes to pregnant women WHO/Europe’s Regional Adviser on Vaccine-preventable Diseases and Immunization Siddhartha Sankar Datta says: “Current evidence suggests that COVID-19 during pregnancy can put women at a higher risk of severe illness and increases the risk of babies being delivered prematurely. However, pregnant women were not included in initial trials of COVID-19 vaccines, so we have limited data on which to assess their safety for mother and baby. For this reason, we recommend that pregnant women consult their health-care provider, who will be able to weigh whether the benefits of vaccination outweigh the potential risks”.