Province urging pregnant women to get vaccinated

CALGARY –

Alberta Health Services is urging those who are pregnant, have recently delivered or who are trying to become pregnant to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible.

According to AHS, six pregnant Albertans were admitted to intensive care units throughout the province in August due to COVID-19.

AHS said all six patients were unvaccinated.

“To put this into context, only seven pregnant Albertans were admitted to ICU for COVID-19 during the entire first year of the pandemic from March 2020 to March 2021,” AHS said.

“In the six cases last month, COVID-19 had severe impacts on the parent’s health, as well as the child’s. Five pre-term births occurred as early as 29 weeks.”

The head of obstetrics and gynaecology for the Calgary zone, Dr. Colin Birch said the fourth wave of COVID-19 is hitting pregnant women very hard.

“We’re seeing more, but we’re also seeing much sicker patients who are pregnant than we’ve ever seen before.  The fourth wave is turning out to be probably the worst from a pregnancy perspective.”

Birch added that pregnant women are more susceptible to the damaging effects of a respiratory virus than the general population.

“How people can cope with having COVID and infection in the lungs, is they have that extra reserve, whereas in pregnancy, they won’t have that extra reserve because of the physical constraints (of being pregnant).”

PREMATURE DELIVERIES

It’s not just the women who are affected — their babies suffer too says Dr. Eliana Castillo, a professor in the university of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine.

“If a mom in pregnancy gets sick, her chances of having a premature baby or delivering prematurely is high,” said Castillo, who specializes in obstetric medicine.

Premature babies are more likely if a woman gets COVID-19

Claire O’Gorman is a registered nurse in Calgary. She’s also a new mom, having given birth to a baby girl in July.

O’Gorman made the decision to vaccinate midway through her pregnancy.

“I got the my first shot when I was 27 weeks pregnant, and my second shot when I was 36 weeks pregnant with a pertussis booster in between,” she said. “So getting those vaccines gave me confidence that I was going to be okay, and that my baby was going to be okay, and that the risks of COVID were mitigated that way.”

Alberta Health Services hopes more pregnant women, or women who plan to become pregnant, follow O’Gorman’s lead and get vaccinated.

It has created a website ahs.ca/vaccinepregnancy.  In an effort to overcome misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccination for pregnant women.

Castillo said it’s understandable that many pregnant women have questions and hopes they will take the time to properly research the benefits of vaccination.

“For 40 years, we have been telling pregnant women since the thalidomide disaster (that) the safest thing to do is not to put anything in your body. And that has been the common wisdom,” she said.

“We have failed to communicate to mothers that when it comes to infectious diseases, like influenza, pertussis, zika and certainly COVID-19, the best way to protect your baby is to get a vaccine.”

Dr. Birch agreed, saying the COVID vaccination is a safe and effective way for pregnant women to protect themselves and their unborn children.

“This is a safe vaccination for women to get in pregnancy, to protect themselves, protect their child by virtue of the fact that if you have severe illness, and you have an extremely premature infant that comes with a cost for that infant also, and for the families as well,” Birch said.

O’Gorman believes there are barriers for many pregnant women, who might want to get vaccinated.

“For example, a lot of pregnancy-related appointments mean you have to go alone,” she said. “You can’t if there’s other children in the home, you have to find childcare. And getting a vaccine can be one more appointment that you have to find childcare for, and get out the door for and get to an appointment. And that can be a barrier.”

“If there’s ways we can decrease those barriers, such as having vaccines available, where people are already accessing care, so if you could get a vaccine at your obstetrician appointment or your family doctor appointment that would be really valuable.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 212 patients being treated for COVID-19 in Alberta ICUs .

According to AHS, 79 per cent of those are not vaccinated.

ICU capacity in Alberta on Monday was at 90 per cent. Without added surge spaces, AHS said that number would be 148 per cent.

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