COVID-19: Pregnant women in Alberta seek changes to vaccine rollout within Phase 2B

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Pregnant women in Alberta seek changes to COVID-19 vaccine rollout within Phase 2B
The province is in Phase 2B of its vaccine rollout, but it is rolling doses out by year of birth. Phase 2B includes pregnant women and some are concerned they won't be able to get vaccinated before their baby comes. Julia Wong explains – Mar 31, 2021

Pregnant women in Alberta qualify for Phase 2B of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout but some are calling for changes to how the rollout works.

Currently, Albertans born between 1957 and 1963 can book appointments at participating pharmacies while those born between 1957 and 1959 can book through Alberta Health Services.

With the rollout based on year of birth, many pregnant women who fall between the ages of 20 and 40 will not be able to book for some time.

Kayla Kashuba was born in 1990 and is pregnant with her first child.

“It’s been a little bit scary. My whole family has tried to be extra precautious,” she said of being pregnant during a pandemic.

Kashuba was initially excited to learn pregnant women were included in Phase 2B but she has concerns that she will not be able to access the vaccine before her due date on April 10.

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“If we continue by birth year, it could be weeks before it’s my turn. The baby could come at any point now,” she said.

Kashuba said she would like to see pregnant women vaccinated as quickly as possible and for Phase 2B to include those who are breastfeeding.

“I think it’s great pregnant women are included… but [I feel] a little bit disappointed because I feel like the decision-makers have maybe missed the mark a bit,” she said.

“There’s some unfairness there because we don’t stay pregnant forever. This is just a temporary thing. Did they think about that? I’m not too sure.”

On March 16, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw explained why the province had included pregnant women in Phase 2B, which covers Albertans who have an underlying health condition.

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“Pregnancy is a condition that a multitude of research has indicated causes increased risk of severe outcomes when compared with women who are not pregnant,” she said.

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READ MORE: Doctors urge high-risk pregnant, breastfeeding women to get access to COVID-19 vaccines

Hinshaw said there have not been clinical vaccine trials done in women who are pregnant but said observational outcomes have shown there have been no adverse events reported in pregnant women or their babies.

“We know that both pregnant women and their babies are at increased risk of severe outcomes when it comes to being infected with COVID-19,” Hinshaw said.

“We want to give women that opportunity to make the choice for themselves based on that balance of risks, understanding there is still some evidence that is not available. But we know the Canadian Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology has recommended that pregnant women be offered the vaccine.”

Women at any stage of pregnancy are eligible for the vaccine in Phase 2B.

An international study is currently underway with 4,000 volunteers to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine in pregnant women. It is being conducted by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE.

READ MORE: Pfizer, BioNTech begin COVID-19 vaccine trials on pregnant women

Studies have suggested that babies born to vaccinated mothers could have antibodies.

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A study in Israel, which has not been peer-reviewed, evaluated the levels of antibodies of 20 pregnant women who had received two shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine during their third trimester of pregnancy and in their newborns. In all cases, antibodies were detected at adequate levels.

READ MORE: Babies born to COVID-19 vaccinated moms could have antibodies, study suggests

The authors noted the small size of the study and said further research was necessary to gauge the effect of vaccination at different stages of pregnancy, and the safety and efficacy of the different vaccines now available.

Further, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard looked at 84 pregnant, 31 lactating and 16 non-pregnant COVID-19-vaccinated women and found antibody levels were comparable in all three groups.

Antibodies were present in all umbilical cord blood and breast milk samples taken in the study, with researchers saying it shows the transfer of antibodies from mother to newborn.

A separate U.S. study posted last week, also awaiting peer review, found that the antibodies induced in pregnant women from mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, such as the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots, were transferred to the babies via the placenta or breast milk.

Theresa Saretsky was born in 1995 and is pregnant with her second child.

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She, like Kashuba, was excited to learn that pregnant women were included in Phase 2B but said that vaccines should not be given to this group based on age.

“I think they maybe should have split it up and made different [streams] for each group because I don’t think there’s anyone in the current group [who is eligible] that is pregnant and expecting,” Saretsky said.

Saretsky said she would like to see lactating mothers added to the Phase 2B list.

“If they have those abilities to pass those antibodies, they should be able to,” she said.

“At this point, it’s not more my protection; I want to be able to protect my baby and give them those antibodies that are protection.”

In a statement, Alberta Health said it is using a staggered rollout because of limited supply.

“Age remains the largest risk factor in experiencing severe outcomes, which is why we are starting with the oldest members of this cohort,” said spokesperson Tom McMillan.

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“We will be expanding the rollout to include other birth years within 2B as quickly as the limited vaccine supply allows.”

– With files from Reuters

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