The Ontario Medical Association says it plans to make a concerted effort this week to urge pregnant women to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Dr. Constance Nasello, chair of the OMA's section on obstetrics and gynecology, said obstetricians and gynecologists will remind women across the province to get their two doses because COVID-19 vaccination rates of pregnant women in Ontario are relatively low compared to that of the overall eligible population.
According to the ICES COVID-19 Dashboard, 68 per cent of pregnant women, age 12 to 64, have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 60 per cent have had two doses, up until Oct. 3, 2021. In the same time period, 84 per cent of eligible Ontarians have had one dose, while 79 per cent have had two doses.
"Please, please get vaccinated, you'll protect yourself," Nasello said in a message to pregnant women in Ontario.
"The antibodies that you make will cross the placenta to protect your baby. And please, get everyone around you vaccinated because the safest way to prevent spread of this virus and to prevent more variants that could be potentially even more virulent from emerging is for more and more people to be vaccinated. Protect yourself, protect your family."
COVID-19 consequences can be severe if pregnant: OMA
Nasello, based in Chatham, Ont., said it's important for doctors to make this push now because pregnant women continue to be at higher risk of becoming seriously ill if they get COVID-19. The OMA has 44,000 members, including 31,500 of whom are practicing doctors.
Five per cent of pregnant women who get COVID-19 require admission to hospital, and of that number, 10 per cent end up in intensive care units for long periods of time. Pregnant women in ICUs and their fetuses have to be monitored closely and the data shows that women who acquire COVID-19 are more likely to deliver prematurely, she said.
There are cases where mothers and babies don't survive the infection, she added.
"All in all, it's an unfortunate, unfortunate situation and one that can be completely prevented by vaccination," she said.
"Our goal is to actually try to reach as many people as possible with the most up to date information and answer their questions and hope that they will choose to become vaccinated."
For Caitlin Magura, an intensive care unit nurse at Humber River Hospital who has one child and is pregnant with another, said she was hesitant at first to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
"It was a new vaccine and we didn't know much about it and the information wasn't really there as far as pregnant women getting vaccinated and any of the effects on the baby. But after much research was done and the studies came out and speaking with my OB, my family doctor, I decided it was the right decision for me," Magura said.
Magura said her work as an ICU nurse helped her to make a decision. She got vaccinated in her first trimester.
"I've seen firsthand the devastating effects that COVID 19 can have on the body, especially in pregnant women. We do see pregnant women often. And it's that decision and working with that population really kind of made me not hesitate when it comes to protecting myself."
If a friend were to ask her advice about the vaccine, Magura said she would recommend "staying off the internet, staying off of word of mouth and not what their friends think, but getting their information from a trusted source, feeling confident in their decision and obtaining all the knowledge from their doctors that they can."
Tama Cross, a registered midwife and midwifery department head at the Scarborough Health Network, acknowledged that there are a lot of questions that women have about the safety of any medication during pregnancy. She noted there are vaccines, including the Rubella one, that is not recommended for pregnant women.
"Everything is often questioned whether it's safe in pregnancy. I think it's really reasonable that they expect a very fulsome discussion about the COVID vaccine. And as health care providers, we just have to expect that. But that discussion may take some time," Cross said.
"We need to take the time to explain that it is safe, that there have been studies that have involved many pregnant women who have already had the vaccine, and there's been no evidence to show that there is any negative effects on pregnancy outcomes."
Pregnant women who get COVID-19 face increased risk of preterm labour, C-section, stillbirth and high blood pressure, she said. "Those risks are really important to talk about it in the discussion," she said.
COVID-19 vaccine safe during pregnancy, province says
According to the Ontario health ministry, several organizations say COVID-19 vaccine is safe and recommended for women who are trying to conceive, or who are pregnant, or who are breastfeeding. The organizations include:
Provincial Council for Maternal and Child Health.
Ontario Society of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists.
Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada.
National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
"You can safely get the COVID-19 vaccine before becoming pregnant or in any trimester of pregnancy," the ministry said in an email on Saturday.
"The benefits of getting vaccinated to prevent potential complications in pregnancy far outweigh the risks. Not only will the vaccine protect you from COVID-19 infection, it will reduce the risk of severe illness and complications related to COVID-19 infections in pregnancy," it continued.
"Studies suggest the antibodies your body develops following vaccination will pass to your baby, which may keep them safe after birth."
Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, said on Thursday that vaccination is important for women who are trying to become pregnant, or who are pregnant, or who are breastfeeding.
"Getting vaccinated can protect you from infection and reduce the risk of severe disease and complications in pregnancy," Moore said.
"And studies suggest the antibodies that your body develops following vaccination will pass on to your baby, which will keep them safe after birth. You can safely get the influenza and COVID-19 vaccines before becoming pregnant or in any trimester of pregnancy," he added.