Obstetricians have called for pregnant women to be given priority for Covid-19 vaccines.

It comes after seven cases of foetal deaths linked to the virus in Ireland since the start of the year and concerns over the impact of the variant first seen in the UK.

Dr Cliona Murphy, the chairperson of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said "pregnant women are at risk of conditions that the rest of the population aren't at risk from".

"The benefit risk needs to be discussed again and the offer needs to be made to pregnant women" who want a vaccination, she said.

Dr Murphy said pregnant women aren't at more risk of contracting the coronavirus but she said "there is a wealth of evidence showing that they are at more risk of complications should they get Covid".

"Pregnant women have more than just themselves to consider during pregnancy, they also have a worry about their unborn baby and the risk of placentitis."

Since January, there have been 11 cases of placentitis in Ireland, where the placenta becomes infected with the virus.

There were six cases of stillbirth and one case of second trimester miscarriage as a result.

Dr Murphy said "although those numbers are small, they are obviously devastating for the families involved".

She said "the concern is that not all of those were related to women being extremely sick in their own right".

"We don't really know what the underlying risk factors are but those women weren't particularly overweight or the usual risk factors for Covid."

Dr Murphy said "there has been an increase in evidence lately that we feel is relevant that all pregnant women should be offered a vaccine".

"In the UK, there is now published evidence coming out showing that they have seen an increase in admissions to ICU, pre-term birth rates and unfortunately maternal mortality rates due to the B117 variant."

And Dr Murphy said a laboratory confirmed link has been made between the B117 variant and placentitis in five out of the seven foetal deaths here.

Vaccines are currently offered to pregnant women in priority cohorts four, people with a medical condition that puts them at a very high risk of severe disease, and seven, those with an underlying condition that puts them at a high risk of severe disease.

Dr Murphy said "if we rely on the age-related groups, pregnant women who want to get it in pregnancy won't necessarily be able to get it".

"It's not that one should or one must or one shouldn't, but there should be an option for pregnant women."

And she said "it's not necessarily a realistic option for all to cocoon, so we would like to see more access" for those who wish to get a vaccine.