Outrage over Havering councillor’s comments about doctor’s COVID advice to pregnant women

A Havering councillor has been urged to apologise after arguing a senior doctor should be sacked for advising pregnant women to get the COVID vaccine.

During a council meeting last week, David Durant from the Independent Residents’ Group called the advice from the local NHS trust’s chief medical officer “absolutely scandalous”.

He went on to say that the advice from Dr Magda Smith “disqualifies that medical officer from her position” in his opinion.

The chief executive of Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT) later called on Cllr Durant to apologise for the remarks.

During the meeting, Cllr Durant said: “Where is medical backing, where’s the trials?… I think it’s absolutely scandalous.”

Matthew Trainer, chief executive of BHRUT, said: “Councillor Durant’s criticism of Dr Magda Smith is completely unwarranted. The government advice on pregnant women and vaccines is crystal clear.

“Magda is a highly regarded clinician with decades of experience. She worked throughout the pandemic to look after patients affected by COVID-19.

“I hope Councillor Durant will reflect and apologise to Magda. I trust he will avoid repeating his accusation again in public.”

Dr Smith recently said that pregnant women at her trust have had to give birth early due to complications from COVID-19.

She warned that unvaccinated pregnant women were among the most at-risk from the virus, particularly if they’re towards the end of their pregnancy.

She added: “Then actually we have to deliver the baby early to be able to look after the woman.

“We saw a few of those women sadly ending up in intensive care because they were getting incredibly sick.”

At other points in the meeting, Cllr Durant suggested that the population has developed “natural immunity” and that the government’s response has been “vastly disproportionate”.

In August last year, Cllr Durant was criticised for saying the government had “vastly inflated the seriousness” of the pandemic and had “promoted ongoing fear porn that has terrorised the public”.

When asked to explain his views further, Cllr Durant said: “The Pfizer vaccine hasn’t been licensed as safe but was authorised as an emergency response to a declared pandemic claiming the benefits outweighed the risks.

“This means its experimental and everyone taking it are part of a drug trial not due to end for another two years.

“Therefore its elementary not to promote the jab (and much else) for pregnant women and their babies and [Dr Smith] is ignoring the fact the vast majority of people have natural immunity and there are medicines available to treat us when we fall ill and ignoring the number of adverse reactions and deaths following the jab.”

Mark Ansell, Havering’s director of public health, said: “Our role is to ensure that residents have accurate information and the evidence in favour of pregnant women having the vaccine is overwhelmingly positive.

“It has proven to be safe for women and their unborn child and significantly reduces the risk of serious illness and death.”

Councillor Damian White, leader of the council, said: “Opinions such as those expressed by Councillor Durant can be extremely dangerous and absolutely do not represent the health advice promoted by Havering Council and the overwhelming consensus of medical experts.

“Spreading misinformation only undermines the hard work and evidence provided by the NHS and other official health bodies.

“As he is not a health professional, we would strongly encourage residents to seek the facts from reputable bodies on these issues.

“In addition, I urge Councillor Durant to retract his comments about Magda Smith and to stop putting residents at potential risk.”

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter