Pregnant nurses urge province to make them eligible for 2nd dose of COVID-19 vaccine

Some pregnant Manitoba nurses who work on the front lines — including in intensive care units — are dismayed they are not yet eligible to get a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The nurses, who held off on booking their initial appointments when first eligible in February, due to unclear risks for pregnant people, believe they are putting themselves in jeopardy while they care for patients.

“There’s documented increased risk for pregnant women and their babies. So I, I just feel disappointed that I can’t. I’m not considered a priority at this point,” said one nurse who works at a Winnipeg hospital. 

The nurse and her peers, who all received just one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals or losing their jobs for speaking out. 

‘I feel like we’re not valued’

The nurse said because pregnant people were excluded from clinical vaccine trials she wanted to wait before getting the shot until her obstetrician gave her the OK. 

She got the approval in March and booked her first dose appointment for April. She has been unable to book her second dose, as only Indigenous Manitobans and people with specific health conditions are eligible in addition to those who got their first dose on or before March 29.

“It’s just so disappointing, I feel like we’re not valued and respected … We’ve been going to work putting ourselves at risk for over a year now.”  

Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, said all healthcare workers should be made a priority for second doses of vaccine. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Another nurse, who held off on getting her first dose due to health issues, said she was “blown away” when she phoned to book her second dose and was told she wasn’t eligible.

“I found it strange that they weren’t wanting health care workers to be prioritized anymore,” she said.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is supposed to be given in two doses 21 days apart but provinces have delayed second shots due to a shortage of vaccine from the federal government and as part of an effort to get more shots into arms. Only four per cent of Canadians are fully vaccinated. 

A provincial spokesperson said people who get at least one dose will have protection against COVID-19, adding the government regularly reviews its eligibility strategy and real-time adjustments will be announced. 

Union says nurses a priority 

A third nurse who works in an emergency department said she also hasn’t been able to get her second dose. She waited to be vaccinated until her second trimester on the advice of her doctor and urged the province to make her and her peers eligible.

“Your immunity level will be better after your second dose and especially against the variants that are of concern right now. Having two doses is always better than one, especially for health-care workers that are working on the front lines and dealing with … first-hand COVID patients.” 

Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said all health-care workers should be prioritized for second vaccine doses.

“Recently we have received reassurances that second doses for nurses are a priority, which is how to appropriately protect both the public and our members who continue to provide care in these dire circumstances,” Jackson said in a statement.

“In the current state of affairs, we can ill afford to have nurses be unavailable for patients because they themselves contract COVID.”