Pregnant Women Are Being Denied the COVID-19 Vaccine Despite Eligibility

"I left in tears because after this super stressful year of uncertainty, I really thought this was it. Knowing that I was at risk, I was really looking forward to getting it and was offered no explanation. It was disheartening for someone else to make that decision for me."
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By Nehal Aggarwal, Editor
Published April 15, 2021
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Image: Amina Filkins

In recent weeks, pregnant women have been getting turned away at COVID-19 vaccination sites, despite being eligible.

Last month, in Bakersfield, California Amanda Punkett, was told she could not get her COVID-19 vaccine at Walgreens. Punkett and her husband had been protecting themselves from the virus to the best of their ability, and decided to get vaccinated before their newborn arrived.

“We’ve been very good about really keeping to ourselves, which has changed the dynamic of what it’s like to be pregnant with your first child," she told local outlet 23ABC News.

“At first she felt uncomfortable with being in a pharmacy setting, administering to a pregnant woman,” her husband also told the outlet, adding that she had also brought a letter from her doctor to her vaccination appointment. However, when Plunkett showed up, the person giving the doses refused to administer hers. While Walgreens apologized to Plunkett for the incident, as her due date is rapidly approaching, she’s now going to wait until after the birth to try again.

Similarly, Tiffany Del Rio of Alexandria, Virginia booked her appointment at the Kroger pharmacy near Roanoke. However, the pharmacy cancelled her appointment days beforehand. They said that the Pfizer vaccine was “not recommended” for pregnant women, NBC4 Washington reports.

“To be turned away and told that Pfizer isn’t being used on pregnant women—which is not true—that seemed to just be disappointing and concerning,” Del Rio told the outlet.

Amaya Mendizabal, who lives in Miami and is expecting her second child, was turned away at her drive-thru appointment, despite bringing the state-required form from her doctor and a note. She was told that pregnant people were not being vaccinated at the drive-thru and that was “just the protocol.”

“I left in tears because after this super stressful year of uncertainty, I really thought this was it. Knowing that I was at risk, I was really looking forward to getting it and was offered no explanation,” she told TODAY Parents. “It was disheartening for someone else to make that decision for me.”

Choosing to get the COVID-19 vaccine is an incredibly emotional and personal decision, especially for new and expectant parents. The ACOG has said COVID-19 vaccines should be given to pregnant individuals that wish to be vaccinated and meet the criteria for vaccination, as studies have shown that COVID-19 may cause more severe illness in someone who is pregnant. While early studies show that vaccinated moms-to-be can pass protective antibodies to newborns, experts have called for more research surrounding the vaccine for pregnant women. What’s more, Pfizer has even begun including pregnant women in its trials.

With a national ongoing effort to help keep pregnant women safe, it can be devastating to someone who has made the emotional decision to get vaccinated to then be turned away.

To help pregnant women decrease their chances of being turned away during a vaccine appointment, Daniel Roshan, MD FACOG FACS, recommends mentioning the pregnancy when booking the appointment and acknowledging that they have consent from their provider.

Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University, also recommends they bring a note from their OB provider (doctor or midwife) to the appointment. The note should state “that they have discussed the issues involved in vaccination of pregnant women, and that the doctor/midwife has approved of the woman receiving the vaccine,” she says, adding that the note should be written on a prescription pad or letterhead with the provider’s name on it.

“My guess is that the vaccinating place is concerned about potential liability issues, which they shouldn’t have, but a note from the OB provider should work,” Dr. Minkin explains. “The other thing women can do is visit and pull up the information about the COVID vaccine for pregnant women, print it out and bring it with them.”

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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