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COVID-19: Alberta telephone town hall to address vaccine questions around fertility and pregnancy

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Alberta telephone town hall to address vaccine questions around fertility and pregnancy' COVID-19: Alberta telephone town hall to address vaccine questions around fertility and pregnancy
During Thursday’s COVID-19 update, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said she is still hearing questions about whether vaccines impact fertility or are safe for pregnant women. So, she's hosting a town hall to address the topic. Sarah Komadina reports. – Oct 22, 2021

A telephone town hall will be held next week to answer questions from and provide information to anyone who is pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant and is hesitant about getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

During Thursday’s COVID-19 update, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said she is still hearing questions about whether vaccines impact fertility or are safe for pregnant women.

“As I’ve said before, there is no evidence suggesting that these vaccines impact fertility in any way,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw stressed. “Studies done on both male and female fertility outcomes after vaccine have shown no negative consequences.

“Vaccines are also recommended for anyone who is pregnant or nursing, as the risk of severe outcomes of COVID infection in pregnant women has increased with variants of concern.”

Read more: Sister of pregnant Alberta woman who died of COVID-19 urges others to get vaccinated

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Hinshaw said data from thousands of pregnant women who have received the COVID-19 vaccine has not shown any increased risk in pregnancy.

The province’s top doctor also said there continues to be misinformation about vaccines spreading on social media that they’re working hard to address.

In hopes of quashing some of the misinformation, Hinshaw and Dr. Eliana Castillo, clinical associate professor with the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary will hold a telephone town hall this Wednesday to answer questions on vaccines, fertility and maternal health.

“This town hall will be open to anyone who is interested in this topic,” she said. “It’s free for anyone who wants to call in and ask a question about the issue.”

Read more: ‘This situation is urgent.’ Why pregnant women are flooding Canadian ICUs

During the fourth wave of COVID-19, Alberta has seen an increase in the number of pregnant people ending up in ICU. Since mid-July, there have been more pregnant people admitted to intensive care than in the entire first year of the pandemic, according to Alberta Health.

Both the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization have said that COVID-19 vaccines are safe for those who are pregnant and those who are breastfeeding. Both bodies recommend COVID-19 vaccine for all pregnant, breastfeeding and planning-to-become pregnant women.

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Read more: COVID-19 vaccines safe while pregnant, breastfeeding or immunosuppressed: NACI

Cassandra Hirt-Walsh is an OB/GYN at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital in Edmonton. She is currently on maternity leave, and was working while pregnant during the beginning of the pandemic, before vaccines were available.

“It’s terrifying. We’ve all seen patients who have gotten COVID and they’ve gotten really sick really quickly. And these are young, healthy people who should not be unwell like that and it’s terrifying,” Hirt-Walsh said Friday.

She was breastfeeding her now one-year-old daughter when she became eligible for vaccination and said she rolled up her sleeve as soon as she was able.

“I wanted to try to give antibodies to my baby because she wasn’t eligible for the vaccine yet,” Hirt-Walsh said, adding she will get her daughter vaccinated as soon as she is eligible.

The biggest concern she hears from patients is the fear of the unknown, and empathizes with them. The most important thing to do is listen to those concerns and not dismiss them, she explained.

“Patients always want to do the best for their baby and the best for future babies, in the case of infertility, and so that’s why I think that fuels a lot of the hesitancy that we see in patients for deciding to get vaccinated,” Hirt-Walsh said.

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“I think it’s a legitimate concern patients have and it is a new vaccine, which can be scary. But thankfully, a lot of the studies involving the COVID vaccine in pregnancy and the safety of it, as well as the impact on fertility has been — a lot of the scientists involved in that have been very proactive in trying to study this as an important kind of concern.”

Read more: Mothers turning to breast milk to protect children too young for COVID-19 vaccines

She urges everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“I have seen people get COVID and get really, really unwell. I have known people who have died. This is a real serious concern and as a health-care provider, it’s heartbreaking when you see this happen and it’s now so much less likely if you’re able to get vaccinated.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta’s top doctor stresses vaccine safety for pregnant women' Alberta’s top doctor stresses vaccine safety for pregnant women
Alberta’s top doctor stresses vaccine safety for pregnant women – Oct 22, 2021

This isn’t the first time medical professionals have stressed that vaccines are safe for pregnant women.

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Two weeks ago, Global News spoke with an obstetrician who said a growing number of unvaccinated pregnant woman are ending up in hospital with severe cases of COVID-19.

“I have had talks with my patients and say: ‘You’re getting sicker, if you go to ICU and on a ventilator, you will be asleep and while you sleep, we may have to deliver the baby and we will take videos and photos and do all we can but when you wake up you may not be able to see your baby,” Calgary obstetrician Dr. Stephanie Cooper said at the time.

“Having that conversation with a woman while she’s gasping for breath is awful and they are terrified.

“This is unprecedented, alarming and frightening, especially for the mom alone without support of family members around.”

Read more: Alberta obstetricians worried about babies being born to unconscious unvaccinated moms

When speaking to Global News on Oct. 8, obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Colin Birch said since August, there have been 16 pregnant women admitted to hospital with COVID-19 symptoms. Every pregnant patient admitted to ICU in Calgary was unvaccinated, Birch said.

Click to play video: 'Alberta babies being born to unconscious unvaccinated moms worrying Calgary obstetricians' Alberta babies being born to unconscious unvaccinated moms worrying Calgary obstetricians
Alberta babies being born to unconscious unvaccinated moms worrying Calgary obstetricians – Oct 8, 2021

Alberta Health has more information on its website about vaccination during pregnancy.

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Vaccine appointments can be made online.

The telephone town hall runs from 6:15 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 27. More information on how to pre-register can be found on the province’s website.

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