Since April 2021, COVID-19 vaccines have been recommended for pregnant women. Despite this, COVID-19 vaccine uptake in this group is low compared to the non-pregnant population of childbearing age. Our aim was to understand barriers and facilitators to COVID-19 vaccine uptake among pregnant women in Northern Ireland using the COM-B framework, and so to make recommendations for public health interventions. The COM-B proposes that human behaviour is influenced by the extent to which a person has the capability, opportunity, and motivation to enact that behaviour. Understanding the factors underpinning behaviour through this lens helps discern what needs to change to change behaviour, therefore supporting the development of targeted interventions.

This study consisted of eight semi-structured interviews with new/expectant mothers who did not receive a COVID-19 vaccine dose while pregnant since April 2021, and a focus group with five participants who received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose while pregnant. Interview and focus group data were analysed using semi-deductive reflexive thematic analysis framed by a subtle realist approach. The COM-B was used to categorise codes and subthemes were developed within each COM-B construct.

Within Psychological Capability, subthemes captured the need for consistent and reliable COVID-19 vaccine information and access to balanced and jargon-free, risk–benefit information that is tailored to the pregnant individual. The behaviour/opinions of family, friends, and local healthcare providers had a powerful influence on COVID-19 vaccine decisions (Social Opportunity). Integrating the COVID-19 vaccine as part of routine antenatal pathways was believed to support access and sense of familiarity (Physical Opportunity). Participants valued health autonomy, however experienced internal conflict driven by concerns about long-term side effects for their baby (Reflective Motivation). Feelings of fear, lack of empathy from healthcare providers, and anticipated guilt commonly underpinned indecision as to whether to get the vaccine (Automatic Motivation).

Our study highlighted that the choice to accept a vaccine during pregnancy generates internal conflict and worry. Several participants cited their concern was primarily around the safety for their baby. Healthcare professionals (HCPs) play a significant part when it comes to decision making about COVID-19 vaccines among pregnant women. HCPs and pregnant women should be involved in the development of interventions to improve the delivery and communication of information.


Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

Cite as

Patterson, L., Berry, E., Parsons, C., Clarke, B., Little, A., Beggs, J., Chuter, A., Jackson, T., Hsia, Y., McGrath, H., Milman, C., Murphy, S., Bradley, D. & Milligan, S. 2023, 'Using the COM‑B framework to elucidate facilitators and barriers to COVID‑19 vaccine uptake in pregnant women: a qualitative study', BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 23, article no: 640. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-023-05958-y

Downloadable citations

Download HTML citationHTML Download BIB citationBIB Download RIS citationRIS
Last updated: 13 September 2023
Was this page helpful?