Ontario will allow pregnant or breastfeeding people to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to new recommendations obtained by CBC News on Friday.
The recommendations mark a shift from the province’s previous policy that hindered access to those individuals.
A Ministry of Health memo dated Jan. 7 on vaccine recommendations for special populations reads that people who are pregnant “may choose to receive the vaccine after informed counselling and consent.”
It also notes that the available COVID-19 vaccines in Canada, both of which are mRNA-based, are “not hypothesized to be a risk to the breastfeeding infant” and should be offered to anyone breastfeeding.
Provincial officials have not yet responded to CBC News’ request for comment and did not provide the memo.
The Ministry of Health previously advised that individuals who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not receive the vaccine as no pregnant women were included in the trials, but did say earlier this week that officials would “update the advice accordingly” after reviewing the latest evidence and consulting with experts.
In recent days, there was a growing push to speed up that change.
On Tuesday, as CBC News reported, the Ontario Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (OSOG) and the Ontario Medical Association Section on Obstetrics and Gynaecology (OMA-OG) issued a statement urging provincial officials to “immediately allow equitable access for at-risk pregnant and lactating persons” to COVID-19 vaccination.
The OSOG also maintains that consent or approval should not be required as it poses a barrier to timely vaccination.
The push came amid reports that healthcare workers who were pregnant or breastfeeding were being blocked from accessing hospital vaccination programs.
Toronto hospital changed policy
While not all Ontario hospitals were denying pregnant staff from getting the vaccine, at least one major hospital system that did block initial access has changed its position.
In an email sent to staff on Tuesday, the University Health Network — which previously did exclude pregnant women — said any healthcare workers who are pregnant or breastfeeding “may be eligible to get vaccinated” based on the latest Ministry of Health guidance.
“We are requesting that prior to booking a vaccination, they have a conversation with their health care providers about risks vs. benefits of taking the vaccine,” the email read.
Many medical professionals suggest the risks of a pregnant woman falling ill with COVID-19 outweigh any potential risks from a vaccine.
A data analysis on hospital admissions released in December from the University of British Columbia looked at pregnancies in B.C., Alberta and Ontario during a stretch of the pandemic from March to September and found pregnant women with COVID-19 were at increased risk of hospitalization.
Out of more than 350 pregnant Canadian women hospitalized during that time, 11 per cent were admitted due to COVID-19 — a percentage that was several times higher than the COVID-related admission figures for all women of child-bearing age — the study found.
The Ministry of Health’s new memo also recommends that anyone with a compromised immune system or autoimmune condition may also choose to get vaccinated, again with “informed counselling and consent” which includes an understanding that these groups were also not included in clinical trials.
The memo concludes that anyone who has experienced a severe reaction to an mRNA-based vaccine or any of its components should not get either available COVID-19 vaccine.