Protecting babies from COVID
This story reflects the information available at the time of publishing. Please visit the City of Hamilton’s website for the latest information.
The COVID-19 Omicron variant is sweeping the globe, making the pandemic even more concerning for many people including new parents and those who are pregnant.
The good news is, parents have the power to protect themselves and their babies by getting vaccinated against COVID.
Vaccines protect from severe illness
Vaccination helps keep pregnant people safer, and what’s good for the pregnant person is good for the baby.
“Anything that impacts the mother can have downstream effects on the baby.”
“A pregnant person faces a higher risk of contracting COVID,” says Dr. Jon Barrett, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at McMaster University and a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Hamilton Health Sciences. “Their level of risk, unvaccinated, is comparable to someone over the age of 70.”
It’s also safe for the fetus. “Research shows no evidence that the COVID vaccination during pregnancy is associated with any adverse outcomes for the baby.”
By getting vaccinated, pregnant people may also help protect their babies from COVID. It’s well studied in other infectious diseases such as flu and whooping cough that maternal antibodies resulting from vaccination can provide increased immunity to the baby.
Barrett warns that Omicron will likely infect much of the population, including those who are fully vaccinated.
“While being vaccinated won’t necessarily stop people from getting the virus, it can prevent them from becoming seriously ill,” he says.
Testing positive in hospital
The current surge of COVID is putting enormous pressure on hospital teams across the province. All HHS sites, including McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH), are experiencing staffing shortages due to a steady increase in the number of staff and physicians who are self-isolating because they were exposed to COVID or tested positive.
Some patients, including pregnant women going into labour, are also testing positive when they arrive at hospital. In labour and delivery, there has been a significant increase in COVID-positive moms since Omicron, says Shasta Cividino, clinical manager of labour and delivery at MCH.
Babies born with the virus remain a rarity, though Cividino wonders if this might change with so many more COVID-positive women delivering.
“Before this fourth wave dominated by Omicron, our site was not seeing such large numbers of COVID-positive pregnant mothers, so there hasn’t been a large sample size to study at our hospital,” she says.
Babies and children with COVID
As of this week, about 20 per cent of MCH patients, ranging in age from newborn to 18 years old, tested positive for COVID. These are pediatric patients who came to the hospital with surgical, trauma or other medical concerns, says Jenn Watson, clinical manager of pediatric in-patients.
“When they were tested for COVID-19 on admission, we incidentally found COVID,” says Watson. “This is really is a case of pediatric patients being admitted to hospital with the virus, not because of the virus.”
While it remains uncommon for children to get seriously ill from COVID, it’s still important to do everything possible to protect them.
This starts with pregnant people getting vaccinated. “Anything that impacts the mother can have downstream effects on the baby,” says Watson.
It’s also important for family members to protect each other at home, adds Barrett.
“Anyone eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine and boosters should get the shots to protect each other, including their youngest family members.”
Appointments are available – book today at Hamilton.ca/GetYourVaccine