Unvaccinated pregnant women at high risk of serious COVID-19 illness: Henry

A number of unvaccinated pregnant women are critically ill with COVID-19 in intensive-care units in B.C., Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday, as she urged women who are pregnant or thinking of having a baby to be immunized.

Over the course of the pandemic, 40 pregnant women have been admitted to hospital ICUs with COVID-19, including just under half a dozen in recent months, the provincial health officer said at her weekly update with Health Minister Adrian Dix.

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There is no increased risk of complication to mother or baby from immunization, said Henry, but there is an increased risk of severe illness requiring hospitalization or ICU care for those who get COVID-19 while they’re pregnant.

“It is highly recommended that pregnant women get their vaccines as soon as possible, preferably if you’re planning on getting pregnant, to have the vaccine before that,” said Henry. “But at any stage during pregnancy, it is safe and it’s an important way to protect you and your baby.”

Henry said the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website has specific information about the vaccines and pregnancy.

Vaccine clinical trials did not include pregnant wome, but tens of thousands of pregnant and breastfeeding moms have since been vaccinated over the last year, she said, adding it’s recommended by the Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Canadian gynecologists, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, and other similar groups around the world.

All the vaccines that are approved for use in Canada are not only safe, but recommended for people who are pregnant, those who are thinking of getting pregnant, and those who are breastfeeding, said Henry.

Canadian research soon to be published has shown there is no increased risk of complications after being immunized, including miscarriage, pre-term birth, stillbirth or birth defects, said Henry. She said that’s supported by international data, with more than 90,000 pregnant women vaccinated against COVID-19 in the United States.

Canadian and international data show that someone who gets COVID-19 while pregnant is more likely to develop a significantly worse level of severe disease, especially with the Delta variant, said Henry. That’s why across Canada, people who are pregnant have been prioritized for early access to vaccines, she said.

Henry said she is trying to counter misinformation about vaccines, including the unfounded notion that they can cause infertility: “There is no way they can do that.”

The provincial health officer also advised people who have had COVID infections that they still need to be immunized.

Data from across Canada and from around the world show antibody levels after infection can vary, she said, and some people do not develop long-term immunity. At the same time, the virus continues to evolve and can evade your immune response, said Henry.

The vaccine offers broader long-term protection against different strains, even if they change or mutate.

Henry noted studies on Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines for children ages six to 11 are underway, and the province is preparing to be ready to offer them if Health Canada approves them for use.

The province will provide information to help parents decide whether their children should be immunized, said Henry. “This will be really important, especially as we’re into the school year again.”

All COVID-19 vaccines approved for ­emergency use in Canada — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca — are now fully licensed and approved for use in people age 12 and up.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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