At the beginning of the school year, there were a lot of posts online that undermined the safety of COVID-19 vaccination for pregnant and breastfeeding women. The people responsible for the spread of this narrative cited outdated information from the UK government’s website, which were published in 2020. Some of these people omitted information about the date of publication, others argued that although it was published a long time ago, it is still up-to-date. This was to be evidenced by the fact that the data was still available. Some even claimed that the government was withdrawing its recommendation to vaccinate pregnant women against COVID-19. All these posts were false to a certain degree.
On 29 August, Piotr Witczak tweeted that the UK government recommends that pregnant and breastfeeding women should be vaccinated against COVID-19, even though a report published on a government website dated August advises against the vaccination of this group.
The biologist used a specific choice of vocabulary, which leads people to an erroneous conclusion that the date he mentions refers to the date of publication, while in fact it is the date when the website was last updated (the website accessed on 27.08.2022). The information on the website presents a report on the Pfizer vaccine of December 2020 and at that time it was very much up-to-date. In June 2021, the last update of the website contents was made and this information was visible in the saved copy of the website of 27 August, i.e. before the publication of the tweet by Piotr Witczak:
The above tweet was also shared by Jacek Wilk, and on the same day this narrative was picked up by Rafał Piech, who even claimed that the UK government was withdrawing recommendations for vaccinating pregnant and breastfeeding women. The latter additionally appealed to the Polish media for an urgent journalistic intervention to exert pressure on the Polish government and force it to revise its previous position on this matter.
The letter signed with his signature was shared on Telegram channels STRAŻNICY WOLNOŚCI and Ostatnia Rubież RP – Q POLSKA. The latter also featured an appeal made by the President of Siemianowice Śląskie recorded in the form of a video. This recording, which was originally published on the website of his movement called Polska Jest Jedna, was viewed more than 21 thousand times.
On the next day, Michał Wawer also wrote about UK’s resignation from vaccinating pregnant women. A slightly more conservative tone was adopted by Grzegorz Płaczek, who provided only fragmented information.
However, as early as three days later, in a recording shared on his profile, we can hear (from 27th minute) that this information, although “published in June 2021”, is still up-to-date. The vloger did not attempt to verify them, though. According to him, the message is to be validated by the fact that this information is still available on the website (yet, at that time there was already an annotation on the aforementioned website, as described below). At the same time, Grzegorz Płaczek suggests that the Pfizer vaccine has not been sufficiently tested, and that the Polish government is lying to its citizens about the safety of vaccination.
Although many users have pointed out in the comments that this information is misleading and identified the manipulation, none of the above has deleted their posts.
Vaccination of pregnant women still recommended in the UK
Both Polish and foreign anti-vaccination environments referred to the above website in order to authenticate their false theses. Most likely, therefore, administrators added a note to the above entry at the beginning of September, in which one can read that the report below summarizes the initial assessment made in December 2020. It also refers to the most recent Summary of Product Characteristics and a report based on updated data.
In the latter, one can read that in England alone, until the end of February 2022 more than 118,000 women gave birth after receiving at least 1 dose of COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy or shortly before becoming pregnant, and more than 40,000 women in Scotland and Wales received at least 1 dose during pregnancy by the end of March 2022.
Pregnant women reported suspicious reactions similar to those reported by non-pregnant people. The reports do not indicate that any of the COVID-19 vaccines used in the UK or any reactions to these vaccines increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, birth defects, or birth complications.
It was also noted that the risk of COVID-19 infection among pregnant women is at the same level, but compared to non-pregnant women, they may face higher risk of severe symptoms of the disease, especially when infected during the third trimester or if they also have other medical problems. Therefore, pregnant women are considered to be a clinical risk group for COVID-19, and vaccination of pregnant women with Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is recommended at every stage.
COVID-19 vaccination is also safe for breastfeeding women. According to the latest report, there is currently no evidence that vaccination against COVID-19 during breastfeeding causes any harm to breastfed babies or affects the ability to breastfeed.
As a result of disinformation activities of the anti-vaccination community, at the end of August the Department of Health and Welfare of the United Kingdom also reminded on Twitter that the vaccine is safe and highly effective for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Vaccination of pregnant and breastfeeding women is also in line with the recommendations of the English Association of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists – Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), which emphasizes that pregnant women are more likely to be seriously ill as a result of COVID-19 infection, and this can lead to an increased risk of premature birth and stillbirth.
Both the UK government and the English Association of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists agree that vaccination against COVID-19 for pregnant and breastfeeding women is effective and safe. Due to the fact that pregnancy is a risk factor in COVID-19, these vaccinations are highly recommended in this group of patients. The announced re-vaccination in Poland planned for September induced an increased disinformation activity of anti-vaccination environments regarding COVID-19.
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG): https://twitter.com/RCObsGyn/status/1564573810208247811