Pregnant people aged 16 and older are now eligible to book a vaccine, B.C. health officials announced Tuesday, as the province recorded 697 new cases of COVID-19 and one more death.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said data in B.C. shows pregnant people experience severe illness from a COVID-19 at a rate similar to people in their 50s.
"By prioritizing pregnant people today, we add another layer of protection for them, their babies and their communities," Henry said in a written statement.
Henry said online appointments aren't available for people who are pregnant, but they can call the province's booking line to secure a slot.
Health officials said there are currently 7,161 active cases in B.C, an 11-per-cent decrease from last Tuesday.
Overall hospitalizations, which typically lag behind spikes and dips in new cases, are down by three per cent from last Tuesday, when 500 people were in hospital with the disease.
A total of 486 people are in hospital, with 173 in intensive care. The number of patients in intensive care is up by about five per cent from 164 a week ago.
Public health is actively monitoring 10,961 people people across the province who are in self-isolation due to COVID-19 exposure.
5,000 pregnancies in Canada affected by COVID-19
Medical professionals have pushed for B.C. to follow provinces such as Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, which have prioritized pregnant people for the vaccine.
Pregnant people with COVID-19 are more likely to develop respiratory complications and end up in ICU than their non-pregnant peers, said the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada.
B.C. had said it would add priority groups like pregnant people once the province received more vaccines.
Henry said Monday the province was entering "warp speed" with its vaccinations, with more than a million doses expected to arrive in May.
Dr. Deborah Money is a professor in University of British Columbia's department of obstetrics and gynecology and is leading a national research project on COVID-19's impact on pregnant women. She said about 50 to 60 pregnant women are being diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. every week.
"What we see is there is an increased rate of hospitalization and, in fact, [intensive care unit] admission in pregnant women compared to non-pregnant women of the same age group,'' she said.
There have been roughly 5,000 pregnancies across the country affected by COVID-19, Money added, and doctors are continuing to study the health of mothers and babies during their recovery.
Money said she and other doctors are hopeful pregnant people will follow the government's advice and get the vaccine.
"Pregnant women are always very careful and concerned about taking any medications,'' she said. "But we are aware of many pregnant women who want to be vaccinated and were upset they couldn't access the vaccine.''
Sarah Burke Dimitrova, an expectant mother in Sydney, B.C., who is seven months pregnant, said the announcement was a "huge relief."
Burke Dimitrova has been eager to get vaccinated and protect her baby, after having already undergone multiple fertility treatments and suffering two pregnancy losses.
"It's been really scary to hear about pregnant people in the ICUs in Toronto," said Burke Dimitrova, who previously worked in public health in Ontario.
She booked a a vaccine for next week, which she hopes will offer her some protection when she delivers in June.
"I trusted science to help us get and stay pregnant and I'm trusting science to keep us safe now with COVID-19," she said.
Some grocery workers now eligible for vaccine
So far, 1,910,162 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, with 92,244 of those being second doses. More than 42 per cent of eligible British Columbians have received a first dose.
Henry said Monday that B.C.'s third-wave curve is decreasing, more than a month after the province implemented a "circuit breaker"-style lockdown in indoor gatherings.
"There are some encouraging signs that our efforts are working," Henry said.
Those efforts also include restricting travel between health regions and trying to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible.
Henry has said as increased vaccine shipments continue, the province should be able to shrink the four-month window between the first and second doses.
The United Food and Commercial Workers union local 1518 says its members who are grocery workers in the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health authorities are now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
It says workers will receive special information from their employers and the union about how they can register.
Everyone 18 and older can register for their vaccination. There are three ways to register:
By phone through the provincial phone line at 1-833-838-2323.
In person at any Service B.C. location.
Registering for a vaccine is not the same as booking the appointment to get your shot. Once registered, users receive a confirmation code. They then wait for an email, text or call telling them they are eligible and can then book their vaccine appointment using that code.