Mother got Covid and gave birth 16 weeks early after refusing vaccine

New mother, 30, who turned down vaccine tells others to get the jab after she was hit by Covid and was rushed to hospital to give birth 16 weeks early

  • Claudia Li, 30, who lives in Birmingham, said she regrets turning down the jab
  • Project engineer feared the vaccine could ‘do more harm than good’ to the baby 
  • Ms Li, originally from Hong Kong, wants other parents to take the Covid vaccine 

A young mother has implored expecting parents to get the Covid vaccine after succumbing to the virus and being forced to give birth by caesarean section 16 weeks early.

Claudia Li, 30, who lives in Birmingham, said she hugely regrets turning down the jab after being offered it via letters and text messages. 

The project engineer for Severn Trent Water said she feared the vaccine ‘could potentially do more harm than good to the baby.’   

But after catching Covid at work last month, she almost lost her son as she was placed unconscious on a ventilator – leaving medics at Birmingham’s City Hospital no choice but to urgently deliver the baby to save her. 

The boy, yet to be named, weighed just 1lb 4oz – less than a bag of sugar – and while he has been growing stronger by the day, he remains on a ventilator because his lungs are not fully developed. 

Claudia Li, 30, (pictured with her newborn) who lives in Birmingham, said she hugely regrets turning down the jab after being offered it via letters and text messages

In a message to expecting parents, Ms Li said: ‘Please, take the vaccine. I didn’t. Don’t risk yours and your baby’s life.’

Ms Li and husband Scott, 29, a secondary school maths teacher, were excitedly planning for the arrival of their first child, expected in the late autumn.

Her pregnancy was going well, with the soon-to-be mother not even suffering from the expected morning sickness.

But things changed dramatically last month when the Hong Kong native went to her office on July 7 and developed symptoms later that week.   

She said: ‘My gut told me something was not right. I went on and did a lateral flow test on the Sunday morning of July 11, and it turned out positive. I then booked myself a PCR test the same afternoon to confirm.

‘I kept on working up to July 13 but became too ill to work.

Ms Li and husband Scott, 29, (pictured together in June) a secondary school maths teacher, were excitedly planning for the arrival of their first child, expected in the late autumn

Covid vaccines are safe during pregnancies   

The coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines available in the UK have been shown to be effective and to have a good safety profile. 

These vaccines do not contain live coronavirus and cannot infect a pregnant woman or her unborn baby in the womb. 

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that pregnant women should be offered COVID-19 vaccines at the same time as people of the same age or risk group. 

In the USA, around 90,000 pregnant women have been vaccinated mainly with Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and no safety concerns have been identified.

Evidence on COVID-19 vaccines is being continuously reviewed by the World Health Organization and the regulatory bodies in the UK, USA, Canada and Europe.

Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are the preferred vaccines for pregnant women of any age who are coming for their first dose.

Anyone who has already started vaccination and is offered a second dose whilst pregnant, should have a second dose with the same vaccine unless they had a serious side effect after the first dose.

COVID-19 vaccines offer pregnant women the best protection against COVID-19 disease which can be serious in later pregnancy for some women.

The first dose of COVID-19 vaccine will give you good protection. You need the second dose to get longer lasting protection. You do not need to delay this second dose. 

Source: Gov.uk 

‘I was waiting to see how my symptoms would develop and how I would feel down the line but my symptoms got worse on Friday July 16. I booked a telephone appointment with my GP and got referred to have a face to face assessment.’

At that point she was given a fingertip pulse oximeter and told to raise the alarm if the reading dropped below 92% – but just hours later she was in an ambulance on her way into the hospital after her condition deteriorated.

‘Because of Covid my husband wasn’t allowed to come with me, I believe it was at that moment it all became so real, (I realised) I was very sick and wasn’t able to get better myself,’ she added. 

Initially a surge of oxygen delivered via a mask made her feel better.

‘I wasn’t feeling too bad at that point and I still had the ability and strength to message my husband and gave him updates,’ she said. 

But over that weekend her condition deteriorated quickly.

She recalled: ‘The whole thing happened very quickly. I’m trying to remember the details but when the doctor talked to me I was quite poorly and I was quickly intubated afterwards (put on a ventilator) so my memories are a bit vague.

‘What I remember is that the doctor told me they were considering carrying out a Caesarean Section to save me and they will do the best for the baby.’

The operation was carried out on July 20 and the baby was immediately whisked away into intensive care while Claudia continued to fight the virus. 

She was discharged earlier this week but remains under regular surveillance.

The tiny tot is currently on a ventilator because his lungs are not fully developed.

Medics are currently giving him steroids to help his breathing improve to the point where he can be taken off ventilation.

He is already taking milk from his mum and by a donor mum – and is even doing ‘good big poos’, Ms Li said.

She added: ‘We are so glad he is steadily putting on weight – he was born 630g (1lb 4oz) and is now 790g (1lb 11oz). 

Ms Li said she understands why so many pregnant women like her have been reluctant to have the vaccine, but wanted to share her story to help persuade them.

Confusion about vaccine safety, with pregnant women not involved in initial testing, and mixed messages initially about whether the vaccines were recommended for mums-to-be, especially in the early weeks, have put off some.

This is allied to a reluctance among most mums to take any medicines while pregnant, and this naturally makes women and their families nervous, she said.

She added: ‘I did get offered a vaccine via letters and text messages but at the time I felt the vaccine could potentially do more harm than good to the baby.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) data released today shows the number of people infected with the virus fell from 856,200 to 722,300 in the week ending July 31

‘(I thought) how would the Government know the vaccine is safe? How could they ensure no long-term effects on the baby after it was born? So, at the time I felt the bad outweighed the good, so I didn’t take the vaccine.

‘But now, all I say to other pregnant women is “TAKE YOUR VACCINE!” Nothing can be worse than getting admitted to hospital and having to deliver your baby prematurely. 

‘Don’t risk yours and your baby’s life.’

National figures suggest only one in six pregnant women are taking up the vaccine offer.

But the risks from taking the vaccine are minuscule, say medics and scientists, with hundreds of thousands of women in the US, UK and other countries now successfully vaccinated without harm.

More research is being carried out to boost confidence, with new studies now launched to demonstrate the effectiveness and safety of the jabs.

But experts say the dangers from catching Covid-19, especially in the later stages of pregnancy, are potentially life threatening.

Claudia is one of around 30 pregnant women who have ended up in intensive care in Birmingham alone after catching Covid-19 in the last three months, all of whom were unvaccinated.

While that might seem a small number compared to the number of pregnancies (around 1,500 babies are delivered a month locally) the impact on every single family is life-changing.

Dr Sarbjit Clare, deputy medical director and an acute medicine consultant for Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust, said cases are continuing to emerge among unvaccinated pregnant women, despite  repeated assurances about the safety of the vaccine.

‘We understand women are nervous but it is absolutely vital they come forward for their vaccines,’ said Dr Clare.

‘I currently have two women in the acute medical ward who are on oxygen and steroids, with Covid on their chests – they will recover but they are very unwell. 

‘In our intensive care unit we have three pregnant women with Covid-19 who are even more unwell. It is very worrying.’

It’s a message repeated by neighbouring hospital trusts who are also seeing ill women in worrying numbers.

Cllr Paulette Hamilton, city cabinet member for health and wellbeing in Birmingham, said she understands why women have shown reluctance,  particularly because of the mixed messages during the early phase of the rollout.

Test and Trace data showed Covid cases dropped by almost 40 per cent a week ago, in yet another sign the third wave has peaked. They said 189,232 Britons tested positive for the virus over the seven days to July 28

The Covid Symptom Study estimated cases fell by almost a quarter last week, after saying they had plateaued. It estimated 46,905 people are now catching Covid every day, down from almost 60,000 previously

Covid cases are still dropping week-on-week in all age groups, but the rate of decrease has slowed considerably among adults in their early twenties. It could switch to a rise in cases in the coming days 

She said: ‘Pregnant women don’t even want to take paracetemol for a headache, so to try to encourage them to take a vaccine which they see as “new” and worry about the long term effects, that is really difficult. 

‘We have to do more to help them overcome these concerns. It’s also about a lack of trust, particularly in some communities.

‘But we have to keep trying as we know the impact can be deadly.’ 

She said she supported plans to offer vaccines at ante natal appointments, already offered in Wolverhampton and planned for other parts of Birmingham and the Black Country, with midwives on hand to try to allay fears.

Last year Cllr Hamilton saw up close the worst effects, as the heavily pregnant daughter of a family she knew caught the virus and died, without ever holding her baby son.

The little boy was born by emergency caesarean section close to full term, and is now thriving in the care of his family. His mother, Sarah Scully, 35, did not survive.

Sarah’s tragic story was told as part of a series of testimonial hearings about the impact on Black and Asian people locally from the pandemic, led by Cllr Hamilton and city MP Liam Byrne for an inquiry by Doreen Lawrence.

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