COVID-19 vaccine trials begin testing effects on pregnant women
By Jessica Berget, Assistant Editor
On February 18, it was reported that Pfizer and BioNTech started an international study with over 4000 participants to test the vaccine on healthy pregnant women.
While everyone assumed the COVID-19 lockdowns would push a huge increase in births, reports say there has been a decline in births over the past year. Indeed, recent reports according to CTV News have shown that nine months after the presence of coronavirus in BC, births fell far below from the normal rates. For instance, birth numbers from January 2021 show that births fell 278 below the monthly average. It is important to note though that Canadian birth rates have been steadily declining over the past few years so the fall in birth numbers is likely affected by this also.
The lack of privacy from children while working from home and the fear of going through a pregnancy during a pandemic may have soured many women from the decision to have a child at this time. For those who have had children or are planning to during the pandemic, the fear of contracting the virus and the COVID-19 hospital protocols have made the experience more stressful than normal for new and expecting mothers.
For instance, a project studying pregnancy and coronavirus covering 430 cases across Canadian provinces from March 1 to September 30 preliminary findings say pregnant women diagnosed with COVID-19 have a higher chance of hospitalization, intensive care unit (ICU) admittance, and early labour. However, leader of the research and UBC professor of obstetrics and gynaecology Dr. Deborah Money assures that it’s not as scary as it sounds. “It’s not a high rate of complication, so the reverse is the majority of pregnant women have a mild illness and do fine, but there seems to be slightly increased rate of these complications in pregnant women,” says Money. She also says early hospitalization may be due in part of the worry for the pregnant patient and hospitals may be more readily available to admit a pregnant women with the virus over a non-pregnant woman.
The findings also show that there is a slightly higher risk (about 15 percent) of early labour for pregnant women with COVID-19 compared to about eight percent with the population. Money says however at this point in the study they haven’t been able to see why this is happening. No evidence has shown if the virus causes any damage to the fetus and that the rate of transmission is very small. Some babies do test positive after being born but show no signs of illness, according to Money. The story of an Abbotsford woman giving birth under an induced coma may scare many new and expecting mothers, but Money says this is an incredibly rare case. “That’s really the extreme worst end of the scenario, and is going to be very uncommon,” she said. “I think that’s really wise not to over-worry pregnant women who might get this infection, that the vast majority do fine.”
A December 2020 report from the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC) also highlights the risks of COVID-19 in pregnant women. In their report, they claim that most pregnant women who become infected with coronavirus will show mild to moderate symptoms and many will be asymptomatic. The report also mentions that the risk of morbidity is increased when pregnant women have other complications such as asthma, heart disease, obesity, pre-existing diabetes or hypertension, or are over 35 years old.
There is also the worry of women giving birth not being able to have their husbands or support persons in the delivery room with them. However, according to the BC Women’s Health website as of February 2021, mothers are allowed one support person plus one doula in the delivery room with them—depending on the risk factor and their COVID-19 test results.
Many are also concerned about pregnant women receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and how no trials or studies have been done about the effects of the vaccine on pregnant women—until now. On February 18, it was reported that Pfizer and BioNTech started an international study with over 4000 participants to test the vaccine on healthy pregnant women. The new study will include pregnant women aged 18 and older from countries like Spain, Chile, Canada, UK, US, South Africa, and more. Volunteers in the study will receive the vaccination after 24 to 34 weeks of being pregnant and receive two shots 21 days apart.
Some health experts say there is no reason that the vaccine will do harm to the fetus and that they may even immunize the fetus, but there has been no evidence to prove that yet. This theory is due in part of the whooping cough and influenza vaccines which are approved for use for pregnant women and protect newborns and their mothers from contracting these diseases.