Results from the COVID-19 in Pregnancy in Scotland (COPS) study, published today in the Nature Medicine journal, have led to calls for more pregnant women to protect themselves and their unborn children by getting fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Led by researchers at a range of universities and Public Health Scotland (PHS) as part of the EAVE-II project (external website), the study analysed data relating to more than 87,000 women in Scotland and found that pregnant women are less likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19 than women of a similar age who are not pregnant. This is despite growing evidence they are vulnerable to serious birth-related complications if they get COVID-19 towards the end of their pregnancy.

Since the start of Scotland’s vaccination programme, 4,950 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed during pregnancy, with 77% of these cases occurring in unvaccinated women.
Researchers found that 17% of babies born within 28 days of their mother developing COVID-19 were delivered prematurely - more than three weeks before their due date - compared to the background rate of 8%.

Baby deaths (stillbirths and deaths in the new born period), were also more common among women who had COVID-19 in the 28 days before delivery, compared to the background rates seen in the whole population during the pandemic.

COPS co-lead Dr Rachael Wood, Consultant in Public Health Medicine at PHS and author of a recent PHS blog on the findings of COPS, said:

“Our data provide valuable information on both COVID-19 infections and vaccinations among pregnant women.

“It is clear that vaccination is the safest and most effective way for pregnant women to protect themselves and their babies from severe COVID-19 disease.

“Vaccination can be given at any stage of pregnancy, so I strongly encourage women who are pregnant, or hoping to become pregnant, to get fully vaccinated as soon as possible”.

The authors stress that it is not possible to say if COVID-19 contributed directly to the preterm births or baby deaths, as they did not have access to detailed clinical records for individual women.

Encouragingly, preterm birth and baby death rates seen following vaccination against COVID-19 in pregnancy analysed in the study were in line with expected background rates, providing further reassurance on the safety of vaccination during pregnancy.

More information about COVID-19 infection and vaccination in pregnancy, including links to helpful leaflets, is available on the NHS Inform website.

People who have not yet received their first or second vaccination, can attend a drop-in clinic, call 0800 030 8013 to book an appointment or register online to receive their first dose.

A booster dose can be received from 12 weeks after the second dose and appointments can be booked online or by calling 0800 030 8013.

For more information, read the full paper on the Nature Medicine journal website (external website). 

Last updated: 06 October 2022