UCC to Lead Research on COVID-19 Infection and Vaccine Uptake During Pregnancy

University College Cork (UCC) and Ulster University (UU) researchers have been awarded €200,000 from the Irish government as part of the North-South “Shared Island” research funding programme to conduct research on COVID-19 infection and vaccine uptake in pregnancy, and the effects of infection and vaccine on the developing fetus.

The project aims to 1) establish the patterns of pregnancy exposure to COVID-19 infection and vaccine uptake in the North and South of Ireland and compare these to 19 European regions/countries; and 2) to examine whether there is an association between rates of COVID-19 infection and vaccine uptake and the prevalence of abnormalities of fetal development, in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Led by Dr Ali Khashan at UCC’s world renowned INFANT Research Centre, and in collaboration with Dr Paul Corcoran of the National Perinatal Epidemiology Centre in UCC, and Dr Maria Loane and Professor Helen Dolk at UU, the study will provide pregnant women, partners, healthcare providers and policy makers with quality information so that they can make informed decisions around COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy.

The project also collaborates with public health professionals in the North and South of Ireland including Dr Mary O’Mahony (Department of Public Health, HSE South and UCC), Prof Richard Greene (UCC); and Dr Heather Reid and Dr Alison Little (Norther Ireland Public Health Agency).

While there is a lot of data on the dangers posed by COVID-19 during late pregnancy, more research is needed relating to the safety of the infection, treatment and vaccination during the first trimester of pregnancy, according to Dr Khashan.

Dr Loane said “this research will provide evidence to inform women and healthcare providers about the balance of risks and benefits of COVID-19 infection and vaccines in the first trimester of pregnancy”.

A recent survey found that only 58% of new and expectant mothers in the Republic of Ireland had been vaccinated against COVID-19, and reports in Northern Ireland suggest that pregnant women are particularly likely to need intensive care.

The COVICAT research will use data from several open access data sources on COVID-19 infection and vaccine and the European Surveillance of Congenital Anomalies (EUROCAT) registry.

Ultimately, Dr Khashan and his team hope to create an island wide database based on weekly COVID-19 infection and vaccination data in pregnancy.

By making the data publicly available, the COVICAT team hope that they can alleviate some of the concerns pregnant women may have over COVID-19 vaccines.

In turn, Dr Khashan hopes that the study will help inform the decisions of women and clinicians when it comes to vaccination.