KHSC, other Ontario hospitals warn of increase in COVID-19 hospitalization among infants

Kingston General Hospital, a KHSC site. Photo by Lucas Mulder.

In a joint press release issued on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, Kingston Health Sciences Centre, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), and McMaster Children’s Hospital are encouraging anyone who is pregnant to get vaccinated against COVID-19 for the protection of their baby, as well as themselves.

“With the rise of Omicron, hospitals are starting to see a disturbing, potential new trend — admissions of infants with COVID-19,” the hospitals say in the joint advisory.

The hospitals advise that since the middle of December, 2021, CHEO and McMaster Children’s Hospital have admitted a total of six babies under the age of 12 months because of COVID-19 infection. “Previous to that, it was a rare occurrence that an infant was hospitalized for COVID-19 infection,” the hospitals explain. “At CHEO, where they are tracking vaccination status in these particular cases, all the admitted infants’ mothers had not been vaccinated against COVID-19.”

The hospitals say that infants are especially at risk because they have an immature immune system that has difficulty combatting disease. “And if the mother has not been vaccinated or infected, they do not have the protection of maternal antibodies transferred during the third trimester of pregnancy,” the release states. “It is well studied in other infectious diseases such as flu and whooping cough (pertussis) that maternal antibodies resulting from vaccination provide protection for the first six months of a child’s life.”

According to CHEO’s BORN Ontario, which has been monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on the province’s pregnant population, their research shows no evidence that COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy is associated with any adverse pregnancy outcomes in Ontario. “This is consistent with data that have been generated from other jurisdictions and countries,” the advisory states.

“CHEO, SickKids, McMaster Children’s Hospital and Kingston Health Sciences Centre know how stressful the hospitalization of a child is for a family. No one wants their little one to be sick in hospital, let alone for COVID-19,” the release continues. “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.”

“In addition,” the hospitals say, “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.”

Pregnant individuals are considered a high-risk population for COVID-19 complications, based on higher rates of COVID-19 hospitalization, ICU admission, and death compared with non-pregnant individuals of the same age, the hospitals say. “As a result, pregnant individuals are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, not only to protect themselves, but also their babies, who receive antibodies from their mothers during pregnancy. Despite being at high risk, BORN Ontario reports vaccine coverage in pregnant individuals has remained lower than in the general population, even though they have been prioritized.”

Pregnant individuals who have questions or concerns about COVID-19 vaccination can reach out to their health-care provider or utilize resources resources like the Pandemic Pregnancy Guide or VaxFacts.

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