When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, very little was known about the virus and how it impacted different demographics but those in the medical field say it was quickly learned that pregnant women who contract COVID-19 end up sicker than those who are not pregnant.
“What that translates to is an increased risk of hospitalization,” said Dr. Heather Scott, head of the obstetrics department at the IWK.
Pregnant women are four to five times more likely than others their age who aren’t pregnant to end up in hospital. Of those who do require hospitalization, around 40 per cent end up in the intensive care unit.
“That’s a high number,” said Dr. Mark MacMillan, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society.
“That’s kind of scary, it’s almost a 50/50 chance of requiring ICU care if you’re admitted with COVID-19 to hospital.”
Throughout the pandemic, hospitals in both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have had pregnant women in intensive care fighting for their lives.
“The biggest challenge is the fact that you’re caring for two patients, not just one,” said MacMillan.
COVID-19 infections have also shown to have impacts on the pregnancy itself and increase the risk of premature labour, requiring a caesarian birth and having a still-birth. It’s why doctors are urging pregnant women to get vaccinated.
The vaccine has already helped to reduce the number of people ending up in hospitals but there is hesitancy among pregnant women to get vaccinated, and the majority of pregnant women who have ended up in hospital were unvaccinated at the time.
Scott says tracking exactly how many pregnant women are unvaccinated is a challenge, but the latest study out of Ontario estimated about half of pregnant women remained unvaccinated.
“So we are trying to educate pregnant individuals about the rationale for getting the vaccine,” she said.
As with the general population, vaccines greatly reduce the risk of getting COVID-19 and for those who do, it reduces the chance of ending up in hospital or having serious complications.
Studies have been happening around the world to determine the safety of vaccines among pregnant women. Data has been collected on more than 80,000 women who received a vaccine while pregnant and the evidence shows pregnant women get the same side effects as anyone else getting the vaccine, but there are no red flags or other negative impacts.
“Getting COVID-19 is felt to be a far worse outcome than any possible side effects from the vaccine,” said Scott.
“And I want to emphasize that there are no known ill effects from the vaccine.”
Research has also shown that similar to other vaccines, the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines can also help protect the unborn child.
“Some of the antibodies can travel across the placenta so the baby can actually be born with some protection,” said MacMillan.
“Antibodies can actually be transitioned through the breast milk as well.”
Doctors also say those planning to get pregnant should not put off getting vaccinated as COVID-19 vaccines have no impact on fertility.
“I think there has been some info out on social media that has been incorrect and because of that, somewhat harmful,” said Scott.
“There is no risk to being vaccinated when you are trying to conceive.”View link »