Doctors encourage pregnant women to get COVID-19 vaccine to help lower risk of severe outcomes

Experts are calling on women planning to be pregnant or those who are to get their COVID-19 immunizations to ensure they are protected.

Troubling trends first seen in Europe when variant cases emerged have begun to replicate in Canada – so far in Quebec and Ontario.

In late April, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada noted an alarming trend with many pregnant women requiring ventilators after contracting COVID-19 variant cases.

Experts around the world say severe COVID-19 symptoms and variant cases have led to an increased number of pre-mature deliveries.

Now medical officials hope Albertans can get vaccinated to limit the chances of severe outcomes.

Dr. Katherine Ross, an obstetric internist, told CTV News Edmonton that the vast majority of women who end up getting COVID during pregnancy should be fine, however, risks can increase with age and underlying health conditions.

“They’ve got about a five-fold increase in risk of being admitted to both hospital and ICU,” Ross said. “But we’ve also seen women who are less than 35 and have no previous medical issues that are still developing severe COVID and needing hospitalization.”

“Pregnant women with COVID are hospitalized more frequently than their non-pregnant counterparts,” she added. “But we’ve also seen that admissions to ICU and intubations seem to be higher in women that are pregnant as well.”

According to Ross, this was a trend observed in the United Kingdom when the B.1.1.7 variant dominated their active case counts. 

Now that trend is starting to emerge in Canada, Ross said.

The number of expectant mothers with COVID-19 requiring intensive care is on the rise in Ontario.

“There was a hospital in Toronto who had half of their beds in the ICU occupied by women in pregnancy,” Ross said.

“I worry that we’re going to see the same trend here in Alberta as variants become more predominant,” she added.

In rare cases, data shows COVID-19 infections have been linked to maternal mortality and stillbirth. Additionally, studies in Ireland have show increases in miscarriage during pregnancies with the B.1.1.7 variant.

“It seems that the variant spread that’s completely predominant in Alberta now, of the B.1.1.7 (variant that first was identified in the United Kingdom), does cause a risk of miscarriage,” Gibson said.

Ross encouraged all women who are pregnant or are planning to be should get their COVID-19 immunization.

“All of the vaccines that are available are safe from a pregnancy perspective because the vaccine itself stays in the muscle where it’s injected and that’s where the immune response happens,” Ross said.

Ross shared that data shows COVID-19 immunizations are safe in any trimester but recommended expecting mothers receive them as early as possible.

“They’ve also found that the amount of antibody that is passed to the baby seems to be higher the earlier that the mom gets the vaccine in her pregnancy,” Ross said.

“It could be even extra precautions for your unborn child,” Dr. Christine Gibson, assistant clinical professor at the University of Calgary added.

READ MORE: Pregnancy and the COVID-19 vaccine: what to expect after receiving the shot 

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Amanda Anderson