Confusion over pregnant women and COVID vaccination

  • WHO position is non-committal
  • MoH to release statement


With Botswana receiving its first deliveries of the COVID-19 vaccines, there seems to be  confusion about whether or not to administer the vaccine to expectant mothers.

The confusion emanates from exclusion of pregnant women and children in COVID-19 clinical trials which were done to ascertain the safety of the vaccines. This was not a new phenomenon as pregnant women have traditionally been excluded from clinical trials of medicines but nonetheless go on to take them guided by health professionals.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) last month changed its advice for pregnant women considering a COVID-19 vaccine, abandoning its previous position opposing immunisation for most expectant mothers unless they were at high risk.

The new position of WHO is a non-committal “recommends not to use” unless the pregnant women are at high risk because of potential exposures or underlying health conditions.

The WHO position has come under attack from stakeholders who say it is inconsistent with guidance on the same issue from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and will confuse pregnant women looking for clear advice.

But a new section in a document detailing features of the vaccines now does not explicitly recommend against using them. It now reflects their safety profile: “Based on what we know about this kind of vaccine, we don’t have any specific reason to believe there will be specific risks that would outweigh the benefits of vaccination for pregnant women,” the WHO wrote in its website.

Experts say this new advice is now closely aligned with the CDC’s position. The Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Edwin Dikoloti, has said they will release a statement on the rollout and eligibility plan as soon as they are ready.