A group of Ontario hospitals is urging pregnant people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, citing recent infant hospitalizations due to the disease.
Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, McMaster Children’s Hospital, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and Kingston Health Sciences Centre made a joint statement on the issue Wednesday.
“No one wants their little one to be sick in hospital, let alone for COVID-19,” the statement said. “For this reason, as well as for the health of the pregnant individual, we are encouraging anyone who is pregnant and eligible for vaccination – as well as all eligible members in their household – to get vaccinated.”
The group said six babies younger than 12 months have been admitted to Hamilton and Ottawa facilities because of COVID-19 since the middle of December.
“Previous to that, it was a rare occurrence that an infant was hospitalized for COVID-19 infection,” the statement said.
All infants admitted to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa had unvaccinated mothers, the statement said.
The group of hospitals said infants’ immune systems have difficulty fighting disease especially without maternal antibodies transferred during pregnancy from vaccination.
Their statement cited research out of the Ottawa children’s hospital that has shown no adverse pregnancy outcomes in Ontario from COVID-19 vaccines. Despite that, the group said vaccination coverage has remained lower among pregnant people than the general population.
“We strongly support ongoing efforts to better understand the reasons why some pregnant individuals are not being vaccinated; this could help inform approaches for education that are tailored to the needs of specific communities,” the statement added. It also said pregnant people should reach out to health-care providers with questions or concerns about vaccination.
The call from hospitals came as the highly contagious Omicron variant prompted stricter provincewide public health measures aimed at slowing down infection and hospitalizations.
Officials have said the unprecedented number of infections is causing staff shortages in key industries including healthcare. But public health has acknowledged that the full picture of the virus’ spread is not known because tests are now being restricted to those considered at high risk from an infection.
One child under the age of five has died from COVID-19 in Ontario within the past three weeks, according to data from Public Health Ontario as of Wednesday. Data show that 38 Ontario children in the same age range have been hospitalized from the virus over the same period.
Children younger than five are the only age group currently not eligible to for COVID-19 vaccination.
Vaccinations for children between the ages of five and 11 began in November. As of Wednesday, that demographic had the lowest vaccination rate in the province, with 44 per cent having received first doses and two per cent with both shots.