Walker is joining an urgent call by physicians and national and provincial organizations representing obstetricians and gynecologists to prioritize pregnant women for vaccines. Currently, unless they are in other priority groups, pregnant women are not getting vaccinated yet. In Ontario, pregnancy is listed among at-risk health conditions. People in that category are scheduled to get vaccinated starting around mid-to-late May. AstraZeneca is now available to people over 40, but that excludes many pregnant women.
When they do qualify, pregnant women must receive a prescription from the physician, under guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization. The Ontario government says it is looking at amending that and is “actively looking into” reports of growing numbers of pregnant women in ICUs, according to a spokesperson.
Pregnant women with respiratory illness associated with COVID-19 are three times as likely to end up in intensive care and two times more likely to die than people who are not pregnant, said Walker.
“Pregnant women who have COVID-19 appear more likely to develop respiratory complications requiring intensive care than women who aren’t pregnant,” said the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada in a statement on social media this week calling for pregnant women to be prioritized for vaccines. “Providing ventilator support in pregnancy is more challenging and the risks are greater to both mother and child.”
The SOGC said its members were reporting “a wave of daily pregnant women coming into Ontario ICUs, many requiring ventilators. These women are getting extremely sick, very quickly.”
The variants, which now dominate in Ontario, seem to be associated with even greater levels and risk and sickness for pregnant women than the original variants, said Walker.
In the past two weeks, intensive care units in Ontario began seeing growing numbers of pregnant women critically ill with COVID-19, at levels not seen since the pandemic began more than a year ago.
Walker said obstetricians and researchers had heard rumblings about a similar phenomenon in the U.K. when the B.1.1.7 variant became dominant there, but had not seen published data until recently. The degree to which it is affecting pregnant women here took the medical community by surprise.
“It hit us like a bullet train,” he said.
Walker calls COVID-19 critical illness “a new disease for us.” Experienced specialists are having to understand its implications as they go.
“It is not often we run into a situation where we are not sure how to manage.”
Physicians are watching women’s oxygen saturation levels closely because of its impact on both the health of the mother and baby. Some women are being proned — a technique widely used during the pandemic in which severely ill patients are turned on their stomachs to improve oxygen absorption. It is an already difficult technique that is obviously complicated by pregnancy.
This content was originally published here.