BC Children’s Hospital Dr. Meghan Gilley recently had her booster and was in her second trimester of pregnancy when she was among the first to get a COVID-19 vaccine at the Provincial Health Services Authority-hosted vaccination clinic at BC Children’s and BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre in early January 2021.
“I was just really grateful to be given the opportunity to make my own decision about what was best for me and my baby,” says Gilley, an Emergency Department physician at BC Children's.
“I elected to get the vaccine and now the booster. This was supported by my health-care provider and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada.”
Health experts in Canada and worldwide agree that getting a COVID-19 vaccine and booster is a good choice for most pregnant and breastfeeding people. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) says all individuals who are pregnant or those trying to become pregnant should receive all COVID-19 vaccination doses, including the booster, when eligible.
Pregnant individuals who are unvaccinated are at risk for severe COVID-19 complications.
“The vaccines, including the booster, are recommended in any trimester or while breastfeeding,” says Dr. Deborah Money, a reproductive infectious diseases specialist at BC Women’s and lead for the Canadian Surveillance of COVID-19 in Pregnancy. “At this stage in the pandemic we have very solid Canadian and international data that COVID-19 causes substantially increased risk for serious disease in pregnant, versus non-pregnant women, and has a two-fold higher rate of preterm birth, so preventing COVID-19 infection in pregnancy is a priority for the optimal health of the pregnant person and their infant.”
There are now many studies, both globally and here in Canada, showing that the COVID-19 vaccines result in a very good immune response in pregnancy, are equally protective for pregnant women/persons as for non-pregnant, and there are no additional adverse events for the pregnant person or infant.
A booster dose is an additional vaccine you may get later if the protection from the initial two-dose vaccine series begins to decrease over time, which we know is the case for COVID-19 vaccines. A booster bounces immunity back up to a good level of protection for an extended period of time.
“I was weighing the very real risk of COVID-19 exposure and becoming significantly ill, given the fact that I was pregnant, versus the hypothetical risk of a vaccine.” says Gilley. “There’s excellent evidence of safety with vaccines in pregnancy so I decided to get my COVID -19 vaccination.”
Most negative effects occur within the first few days of receiving a vaccine. Gilley was six months pregnant when she received her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and eight months pregnant when she received her second dose.
“It was fine,” says Gilley. “I had a slightly sore arm after the first shot, but didn’t feel unwell. After the second shot, my arm was slightly more sore and I was perhaps a little more tired the next day, but it’s hard to say if that was just because I was in my third trimester. I had no adverse events with the vaccine and my baby is doing well.”
Henry was born happy and healthy in February 2021 and is now 10 months old.
Gilley didn’t see any strange side effects after the booster, either.
“There is no known specific serious risk, like miscarriage or possible birth defect, for getting a COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant, to either the person being vaccinated or the child,” says Money.
COVID-19 vaccination has no impact on future fertility. There is no biological way for this to occur.
At the same time, we already know that being infected with COVID-19 can make people very sick, and it may make pregnant people even sicker.
Early Canadian data has shown pregnant people who contract COVID-19 seem to have an increased risk of being hospitalized and being admitted to intensive care units. COVID-19 is also associated with an increase in preterm births (before the 37th week of pregnancy) in Canada.
“There are some pregnant people who may be hesitant about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. They should seek out answers to their questions from reliable sources of information, like their family doctor, maternity care provider and/or public health immunizer,” says Money.
To register for a COVID-19 vaccine, see How to get vaccinated for COVID-19. The BC Women’s website has more information on COVID-19 for patients. The BCCDC also has a variety of information about pregnancy and COVID-19 on its website.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding and would like to help contribute your experience to the vaccine in pregnancy national registry please see: https://covered.med.ubc.ca. On that same website, there is also an opportunity, for those who plan to deliver at BC Women’s, to take part in an Immune Sub-Study.