As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout ramps up across the country, the risks and benefits of immunization for pregnant and breastfeeding people remain largely unknown because the initial vaccine clinical trials did not include these populations.
In an effort to fill the knowledge gap, researchers are launching a COVID-19 vaccine registry and survey in Canada. They will collect real-time data on the impact of immunization on pregnant and breastfeeding individuals across the country.
UBC’s Dr. Deborah Money, professor in the department of obstetrics and gynaecology, shares why this research is critical. We asked her how pregnant and breastfeeding people in Canada can get involved.
Why is there an urgent need to monitor outcomes and attitudes related to COVID-19 vaccines among those who are pregnant and breastfeeding?
While COVID-19 clinical trials with pregnant and breastfeeding individuals are now underway, the initial clinical trials excluded both groups so there remains a huge knowledge gap. There is reassuring data emerging from the vaccine rollout in the U.S., but at this time there is no Canadian data on the impact of these vaccines in pregnancy.
It is important to document uptake of vaccines in pregnancy here in Canada and to monitor their safety and effectiveness so that pregnant and breastfeeding people across the country are able to make an informed choice about getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
Should pregnant and lactating individuals get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Experts in the field, including the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), recommend individuals be offered the COVID-19 vaccine anytime during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
At this time, a number of provinces, including British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick, have prioritized pregnant people for immunization.
What do we know about COVID-19 and the risks to pregnant people so far?
Working with researchers across the country and with support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), our team at UBC is leading a national surveillance project called CANCOVID-Preg to assess the burden of COVID-19 on pregnancy in Canada.
So far, results from the national surveillance project have indicated that although overall risk remains low, there is increased risk for serious complications among pregnant individuals compared to non-pregnant people when they get COVID-19. We’ve identified that pregnant people with COVID-19 are at increased risk of hospitalization and ICU admission compared to the general population.
How will the results of this new vaccine registry and survey be used?
This project, funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada, through the Vaccine Surveillance Reference Group and the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force, is being conducted in partnership with vaccine surveillance efforts across Canada, including CANVAS, which is a national web-based platform monitoring vaccine safety across all populations in Canada.
Our particular project will provide those who are pregnant and breastfeeding, health care providers, the PHAC, NACI, and provincial vaccine advisory committees with actual Canadian data on safety and effectiveness to guide decisions and recommendations. It will also address unknowns surrounding COVID-19 vaccination in pregnancy and lactation, such as the immune response generated and whether or not immunity is transferred to infants.