A pregnant woman is vaccinated against Covid-19 in Indonesia on August 19 (Photo: JUNI KRISWANTO/AFP via Getty Images)
A pregnant woman is vaccinated against Covid-19 in Indonesia on August 19 (Photo: JUNI KRISWANTO/AFP via Getty Images)

SocietyAugust 25, 2021

No place for anti-vaxx rhetoric in maternity care, midwives told

A pregnant woman is vaccinated against Covid-19 in Indonesia on August 19 (Photo: JUNI KRISWANTO/AFP via Getty Images)
A pregnant woman is vaccinated against Covid-19 in Indonesia on August 19 (Photo: JUNI KRISWANTO/AFP via Getty Images)

As reports emerge of pregnant people being told by their midwives not to get vaccinated, the industry’s regulatory body has put out some strongly worded advice to its members.

The Midwifery Council of New Zealand has told midwives they are expected to be vaccinated and that there is “no place” for anti-vaccine rhetoric in midwifery.

The guidance comes after reports from birthing people that their midwives were telling them not to be vaccinated, against advice from the Ministry of Health, and spreading misinformation about the vaccine.

The statement, emailed to midwives yesterday, says: “The Midwifery Council has an expectation that all midwives will take up the opportunity to be vaccinated – unless this is medically contraindicated. It is an ethical and professional obligation to protect and promote the health of women and their whānau and vaccination has a crucial role to reduce the community risk of acquiring and further transmitting Covid-19.”

Midwives must only give “evidence-based” advice to birthing mothers, the council said.

“As regulator of midwifery in Aotearoa New Zealand, the Midwifery Council respects an individual’s right to have their own opinions, but it is the council’s view that there is no place for anti-vaccination messages in professional health practice, nor any promotion of anti-vaccination claims including on social media and advertising by health practitioners.”

A midwife who did not want to be named due to fear of anti-vaxxers said they welcomed the statement from the council, calling it “timely and well measured”.

“In Australia the Nursing and Midwifery Board have taken it one step further, and have outlined that they are prepared to take disciplinary action against nurses and midwives spreading anti-vaccination propaganda and misinformation.”

The global pandemic “has devastated lives and pregnancies around the world” so the council outlining clear expectations for midwives was important, the midwife said.

A first-time mother who did not want to be named for fear of upsetting her midwife said she was horrified when she told her she shouldn’t be vaccinated.

“I was shocked and appalled and felt really trapped because I knew I couldn’t change midwife, there’s no other midwives in our area. I’m worried about how she will handle the birth if she has such a limited understanding of basic health principles like immunisation.”

Katie, another first-time mother, said she was told by her hospital midwife not to vaccinate.

“I asked her about it and she didn’t even want to discuss it. It was a ‘no, we don’t know it’s safe in pregnancy, don’t get it’. She probably wouldn’t have even brought it up if I hadn’t.”

Katie decided to change her care to a private obstetrician. “The OB said ‘yes do it’ and I’m now 27 weeks and have been fully vaccinated for a month.

“But it just made me mad. I have high health literacy and went and did my own research but so many people don’t and would take the word of their midwife as gospel.”

The New Zealand College of Midwives chief executive Alison Eddy said the organisation supports vaccination as a public health strategy. “And we have been active in promoting evidence-based information regarding Covid vaccination during pregnancy,” she said.

“The college’s position on vaccination is clear and we have circulated evidence-based information amongst our membership, encouraging midwives to ensure they are sharing the same evidence with wāhine and whānau under their care.”

The College of Midwives is not a regulatory body “and therefore cannot stipulate whether midwives are required to be vaccinated”, Eddy said.

“Whilst we are doing our utmost to continue to promote these messages, the ethos underpinning midwifery is that of informed choice, and as health professionals, midwives are required to ensure that the right to informed choice is upheld for all healthcare consumers. To this end, every woman, individual, midwife has the right to make an informed decision regarding their own vaccination status.”

The anonymous midwife quoted above said any criticism of vaccination by midwives must be seen in the context of the wider pandemic and their role as health professionals.

“The pushback on this by a few midwives isn’t really about informed choice, or freedom, or human rights – those are just words that people with immense privilege and ignorance are throwing around in order to stoke fear. This statement is about acknowledging that health professionals working on the frontline, with vulnerable populations, during a pandemic, have to understand what is and is not evidence-based research and peer-reviewed science.

“And if they don’t know how to do that then that brings their competency as care providers into question.”

If you’re pregnant, you can get a Covid-19 vaccine as part of Group 3 at any stage of your pregnancy.

According to the Ministry of Health website, data from the large number of pregnant people already vaccinated globally shows that there are no additional safety concerns with Covid-19 vaccines.

“Vaccinating during pregnancy may also help protect your baby as there’s evidence that infants can get antibodies to the virus through cord blood and breast milk.”

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