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HSE to update vaccine registration process for pregnant women after confusion over rollout

There were calls for clarity at the weekend as some pregnant women tried to get their jab at a walk-in clinic or register through the HSE helpline.

THE HSE HAS said its systems will be updated by the end of this week to allow pregnant women under 14 weeks’ gestation to register for and receive a vaccine, following confusion over the rollout to this group.

Last week the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) issued new recommendations stating that pregnant women and adolescents from 12 years of age should be offered an mRNA vaccine at any stage of pregnancy, following consultation with their obstetric care giver.

At the time the new guidance was announced, the changes had not yet been implemented across the HSE’s system and there has been confusion as pregnant women try to register for a jab.

Dr Vicky O’Dwyer, obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin told The Journal she has received reports from patients that they were turned away from walk-in vaccination clinics or told that they cannot be booked in for an appointment because they are not yet 14 weeks pregnant.

She said the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists circulated the updated NIAC recommendations at the end of last week and many clinicians have been sharing this advice with patients.

“Some rang the HSE helpline and were told the guidance hadn’t been updated on their system and they physically couldn’t book them in, but there have been mixed reports, some people are getting it at [walk-in] vaccination centres,” she said.

“It’s a bit frustrating because we’re advising people to get it and lots of pregnant women really want it.”

She said there is already vaccine hesitancy among pregnant women and she is concerned that those who have been turned away may not try to make another appointment. 

The latest bulletin on 3 September from the HSE’s National Immunisation Office, which provides training and clinical advice to vaccinators, highlighted the new advice from NIAC. However the bulletin pointed out that the change has not yet been “operationalised in the programme”.

It stated that planning was underway, including changes to the IT system, medicines protocols and training and guidance for vaccinators, as well as the preparation of information material for the public.

However the HSE did not provide a timeline for this implementation. 

Dr O’Dwyer said it would be helpful if the HSE could provide more clarity for clinicians on when the systems will be updated so they can pass this information on to patients.

“When the initial recommendation came for vaccines at 14-36 weeks there was a delay in implementation, but this is only a small change so it would be great if it could be done quickly,” she said.

In a statement to The Journal, the HSE said it is now “following the normal process to operationalise this new guidance, including updating the IT system, clinical guidance and consent information to ensure people availing of the vaccine have the best information possible to make an informed decision”.

“We expect to have these changes finalised by the end of this week and we will then be able to offer all pregnant women a vaccine at that time,” the HSE said.

“The HSE is encouraging pregnant women to take up the Covid-19 vaccine when it is offered, following a discussion with their midwife, GP or obstetrician.”

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