We’re now halfway through Advent, the time of year when Christians worldwide celebrate the latter stages of the Virgin Mary’s pregnancy and the upcoming anniversary of the arrival of their Messiah in tiny baby form. Thus it seems like a relevant time to discuss the section of the UKHSA Vaccine Surveillance Reportthat covers the impact of the vaccines on pregnancy.
The UKHSA started including data on pregnancy at the end of November 2021. Like all aspects of the UKHSA Vaccine Surveillance Report, it appears to have been included because the data conformed to the message being promoted by the Government, that is, that the vaccines were safe to be taken before or during pregnancy; I very much doubt that these data would have been included if there were significant negative outcomes being seen in the data.
From the start the UKHSA has focused on stillbirths and birthweight. The data that it does present are reassuring in that they suggest that the vaccines do not have any detrimental effect on these pregnancy outcomes, at least. That said, there have been questions regarding its presentation of the data that it did include. For example, it doesn’t offer any analysis of the data by the period within the pregnancy in which vaccination occurred. This is important because risks vary over the months of pregnancy, and a high risk in one period might be diluted by being mixed with data from other periods in the pregnancy that show no additional risk. There’s also the consideration of its use of cumulative statistics, that is, it often doesn’t offer month by month data but merely updates its total for each new report. Attempts at reverse engineering a monthly figure for stillbirths, for example, suggested that there had been an increase in the early months of this year, whereas this effect was masked in the cumulative data. It certainly would be far less suspicious if the UKHSA presented its data in a more straightforward fashion.
The big problem with the Vaccine Surveillance Report’s section on pregnancy outcomes is the selective nature of the data offered. The authors appear to have decided what we should be worrying about and then ignored everything else. In particular, they appear to be ignoring the health of the baby at birth (using ‘birthweight’ as a proxy of health is insufficient) and there appears to be nothing in the way of longer term assessment of the development of the baby once born. It is important to play close attention to the development of babies in their first few months of life, as it is only after 6-12 months that certain developmental abnormalities become readily recognised. For example, Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS, a developmental abnormality caused by the mother drinking alcohol during pregnancy) is often not recognised before six months of age (and sometimes not until some years after birth), despite it being a serious condition that is entirely due to abnormal development in the womb. It is of note that FAS was recognised as being a potential problem in the mid 19th century (and possibly was known as a potential problem for centuries before this time), yet it wasn’t until 1973 that the first rigorous study into this condition was published. It isn’t so much that medical research was slow in this case, but more that it can be difficult to identify problems in very young children even where the impact is significant, and simple observational studies are often not enough.
Read More: Are Covid Vaccines Behind the Drop in Birth Rates in 2022?