PREGNANT women in Ballarat are setting the tone for protection against the deadly coronavirus with one of the highest vaccination rates among the state's expectant mums.
Ballarat's uptake bucks a national trend lag trend from misinformation and vaccine hesitancy as obstetric and vaccine experts move to reassure parents jabs are safe and important to best protect pregnant women and babies from severe COVID-19 impacts.
This also comes amid health experts' moves to reassure parents as Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration provisionally approved Pfizer for children aged five to 11 with jabs likely to come into action next month.
Ballarat Health Services' obstetrics lead Natasha Frawley said clear COVID-19 vaccination data on pregnant women was hard to find but, in meeting fortnightly with other regional teams and industry body Safer Care Victoria, it was clear Ballarat had one of the state's highest jabs rates among pregnant women.
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Dr Frawley said this was a credit to the attitude and actions of the community as a whole towards COVID-19 vaccinations.
While not necessarily anti-vaccination, Dr Frawley said there had been some reluctance and uncertainty from pregnant and breastfeeding women about COVID-19 vaccinations for a child's well-being.
But Dr Frawley, who is also BHS' clinical director of women and children's services, said the advice from the Australian colleges of obstetrics and midwives was clear and based on studies emerging from vaccine data worldwide: there was no increased risk of miscarriage or foetal damage.
People who are pregnant, planning to get pregnant or who are breastfeeding can access Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in Victoria and are deemed a priority by the Australian government.
"For pregnant women if you get COVID you are more likely than non-pregnant women to be seriously ill," Dr Frawley said. "...Vaccination is also safe for breastfeeding mums and this also protects the baby, who is unable to be vaccinated against COVID.
"For women who are trying to reduce their time outside the home to prevent getting COVID, infection can still happen. Mums can protect against added exposure for their babies with the vaccine."
For pregnant women if you get COVID you are more likely than non-pregnant women to be seriously ill.Dr Natasha Frawley, Ballarat Health Services clinical lead on women and children's services, head of obstetrics
Dr Frawley encouraged women to read written advice from Australian colleges of obstetrics and midwives, which should be available in clinics. She also urged pregnant women to still seek care in person, particularly if experiencing reduced movement or bleeding, and reassured BHS had strict COVID safety measures in place.
Meanwhile, Vaccination Special Interest Group representative Fiona Russell welcomed the TGA provisional approval of Pfizer this week for children aged five to 11.
Professor Russell, of Murdoch Children's Research Institute, said a key benefit in vaccinating this age group would be in lessening further school outbreaks.
Ballarat schools have been rocked by a string of school shutdowns from COVID outbreaks since on-site learning returned in October. Ballarat Clarendon College, Loreto College, Mount Clear College and Alfredton and Delacombe primary were among schools impacted by the virus.
Professor Russell said clinical trials of Pfizer among young children was "well-tolerated and highly efficacious".
She said already more than five million children in the United States had received at least one dose and with jab programs rolling out across Europe, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Israel there would be even greater understanding of the vaccine by the time it reached young Australian children in January.
Already rare Pfizer side-effects, such as heart inflammation in teenage boys, had not emerged in children.
Professor Russell said while COVID symptoms in children were often mild, there was still a slight chance children could end up in hospital with the virus - as did one Alfredton primary pupil.
"Benefits for children outweigh the risk," Professor Russell said.
Pfizer vaccines for children aged five to 11 must still be approved by Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation before made available.
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