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B.C. shortens wait between second, third vaccine doses for pregnant people

Pregnant Greater Victoria women say previous policy left them fighting for earlier shots
Julie MacArthur, expecting twins as soon as March, is among a group of pregnant Greater Victoria people who fought to get a booster shot earlier than six months after their second vaccination, and ahead of giving birth. (Courtesy of Julie MacArthur)

A group of pregnant women in Greater Victoria who pushed to receive a COVID-19 booster shot before their due dates are celebrating a change to the province’s eligibility threshold for vaccines, after expressing concerns with previous timeline rules.

As of Jan. 13, pregnant people living in B.C. can now access a booster shot only eight weeks after their second vaccine dose and at any stage in their pregnancy, but it took a few weeks for the policy to come into effect.

B.C. announced Dec. 31 that pregnant people would be on the priority list for boosters along with elderly and immuno-compromised residents and healthcare workers. However, the province initially didn’t shorten the six-month recommended wait between second and third vaccinations, leaving some residents feeling frustrated.

Julie MacArthur belongs to a local online group for pregnant residents. She is one of several women who spoke to Black Press Media about the lack of flexibility surrounding booster shot timelines. They felt it was important to get a third COVID shot while still pregnant.

MacArthur was especially keen, as she’s pregnant with twins and deemed high-risk.

It took multiple attempts and so-called “lucky breaks” before she could get a booster shot appointment prior to her six-month mark. After calling the provincial and Island Health booking systems multiple times, she finally reached a supervisor willing to override the requirement for her.

MacArthur said pregnant people weren’t being given enough consideration, left instead to try and navigate the health system on their own.

“Feeling like you’re fighting your own government to get medical protection … is immensely frustrating,” she said.

Booster shots benefit parent and baby

Brianne Cawsey, another member of the online group, experienced similar difficulty accessing a third dose early. The health benefits of an earlier dose for her and her child are worth missing a few days of increased benefits from the vaccine, she said.

“For women like me, whose due date is coming up around when I’d be getting my six-month invite, it was stressful knowing that I may or may not get the booster shot before baby is here,” she said.

Cawsey said a booster dose not only gives her an extra level of protection in the final weeks of her pregnancy, but ensures she can pass on as many antibodies as possible to her child before it’s born.

Marie Tarrant, a professor at the University of British Columbia school of nursing who studies maternal and childhood vaccines, agreed being fully vaccinated with a booster shot would benefit a pregnant person and their fetus – the more antibodies in either immune system, the better.

The fast-spreading Omicron variant has been a game changer, she added.

“There’s so much more of the virus around, so both late-term pregnant women and the new baby are much more likely to be exposed to it,” she said.

READ MORE: Langford woman with cystic fibrosis critical of Island’s COVID testing process

Province relaxes timeline after hearing concerns

Tarrant pointed to Ontario, which reduced its waiting period between second and third doses to three months, with pregnant people prioritized. “I’m not saying that’s what the policy should be, but I certainly think we’re in a different situation now than we were even three months ago,” she said.

In an emailed statement to Black Press Media on Monday (Jan. 10), the Ministry of Health did not say whether it would revisit the six-month waiting period for pregnant people, only reiterating its current policies and advice.

However, on Tuesday provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry hinted at a change to the rules in a COVID briefing, telling reporters she was “working with (her) team to make sure that we have more flexibility for pregnant people.”

“We want them to be able to access vaccination at a time when it benefits both them, but also their child,” she added.

The province officially updated its guidelines for pregnancy and booster shots on Wednesday.

MacArthur said she welcomes the change and looks forward to seeing others get their shots.

“It’s great that finally, the vulnerabilities of pregnant people have been recognized,” she said. “This leaves it up to women and their doctors to decide what time is best for them.”

READ MORE: New COVID test booking system causing confusion for Vancouver Island residents

READ MORE: Island Health looks to shorten wait times for booster shots with new mass clinics

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