Pregnant Albertans urged to get vaccinated as COVID-19 hospital admissions jump

CALGARY — An increasing number of pregnant women in Alberta are winding up in emergency rooms and intensive care units suffering from COVID-19.

The hospitalizations come as Delta variant case rates surge province-wide.

“It is a significant concern when we see pregnant women who are having COVID, because when a pregnant woman has COVID-19 infection, their disease severity is greater than someone who is not pregnant of the same age,” said Dr. Verena Kuret, department head of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Calgary.

“We know that there’s more severe disease, they’re more likely to be admitted to the ICU, more likely to require ventilation in hospital. And we’re also seeing increased rates of preterm birth in the population of pregnant individuals who have COVID infection.”

Kuret says there have been 900 new COVID-19 cases in pregnant women since April and the case rate is rising rapidly as the Delta variant takes hold in Alberta.

New infections have risen from an average of four per week in July to 25 cases in the past week alone.

Of those, 14 pregnant women required a trip to the emergency room and two are presently in ICU with the COVID-19 Delta variant, including one woman who is on a ventilator.

Researchers say some of these mothers passed COVID-19 to their newborns, and some of those babies had to be admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit.

Dr. Eliana Castillo of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute maintains that each of theses events was preventable.

“Pregnant people have been eligible for COVID-19 vaccination in Alberta since early 2021,” said Castillo.

“We have strong evidence from the over 100,000 pregnant people vaccinated against COVID-19 that the vaccines are safe and provide good protection for both mother and baby.”

Annalise Klingbell, 33, is expecting her first child in November.

The former journalist scoured peer-reviewed medical reports and spoke with her doctor before deciding to get vaccinated.

“I made the decision that was right to protect my health and the people around me and my baby,” said Klingbell.

“I think when you’re pregnant, you worry about everything, you worry about what you’re putting in your body, you worry about your baby. But the all of the research points to the fact that vaccines are safe. They’re the best thing you can do for the people around you, for you and for your baby.”

Airdire mom Kielan Buzzard is expecting her second child in November.

“I get the hesitancy, and I get that there’s so much misinformation out there,” said Buzzard.

“I was still in my first trimester and you just don’t know, right, you’ve kind of getting to that 12-week point where you want to tell everybody and I was thinking, ‘Oh, what if it does do something that affects the pregnancy?'”

Buzzard spoke with her physician and pharmacist before getting the jab, and is happy she is now fully vaccinated.

“I really did feel better knowing that I’m protected and in a way protecting (her baby) and knowing that I’m also protecting my toddler is beneficial. So there was a little bit of nerves around anything new. There’s fear, and nerves and there’s unknowns. But for me, it just the like the reward really outweighed the risk.”

While full immunization data on pregnant women experiencing severe COVID-19 illness during the fourth wave is not yet known, researchers say those pregnant women who got sick and contracted COVID-19 in the third wave had not received the shot.

Researchers say many pregnant women are hesitant about vaccines, citing the safety concerns for both themselves and their babies. Kuret points out that even pre-COVID only between 20 and 30 per cent of pregnant women receive a flu shot.

Alberta’s current wave of COVID-19 cases is being driven by the Delta variant of the virus, which is now the dominant strain across the province and substantially more contagious than previous variants of the disease. 

The Delta variant is spreading primarily among those who remain unvaccinated and is the cause of the most severe COVID-19 related illnesses in Alberta.

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