‘Ending up on a ventilator’: Toronto hospital reports alarming number of pregnant patients in COVID-19 ICU

TORONTO — Toronto critical care doctors are sounding the alarm on the mounting number of pregnant COVID-19 patients in their intensive care units, saying expectant mothers appear particularly vulnerable to the variants.

Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto reported Monday that 30 per cent of its ICU patient were pregnant, a significant increase from the first two waves of this pandemic.

“It’s heartbreaking and devastating to see young and healthy individuals who are coming in, deteriorating very rapidly in front of our eyes, ending up unable to speak or breathe, and ending up on a ventilator,” Dr. Wendy Whittle, head of labour and delivery for Mount Sinai Hospital, told CTV News Toronto Monday.

Pregnant women are more vulnerable to respiratory viruses, Whittle said, due to decreased lung capacity and increased oxygen consumption.

Dr. Tali Bogler, Chair of Family Medicine Obstetrics at St. Michael’s Hospital, said she believes pregnant women are especially susceptible to the COVID-19 variants of concern.

“Now we are seeing pregnant women, even without those underlining medical conditions, developing more severe illness,” she said. “They are requiring support for breathing, requiring ICU admissions, mechanical ventilation, high levels of oxygen.”

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has called on the Ontario government to prioritize pregnant women for vaccination immediately; echoed Monday by the Ontario Society of OBGYNs, which said the province’s ICUs were “overwhelmed” with pregnant women suffering severe symptoms.

“There are situations already that I’ve heard of, where obstetricians have had to do a Caesarian section on the ICU bed in order for mom to be appropriately treated, especially with ECMO,” Dr. Constance Nasello told CTV News Toronto.

The province has categorized pregnancy as an “at-risk” health condition prioritized under Phase 2–a phase Toronto vaccine clinics have not yet reached.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said Monday that the province did not have plans to further prioritize pregnant women for the vaccine, but said “if a woman’s primary physician believes it’s important to immunize her quickly, then of course we would follow the physician’s advice.”

The Ministry of Health did not respond to several clarification requests from CTV Toronto inquiring whether that meant that some pregnant women could receive the vaccine now.

Family physicians meanwhile are among those calling for the vaccination of pregnant women.

“When you have pregnant women in the ICU, you have two lives at stake,” Dr. Noah Ivers, family physician and researcher at the Women’s College Hospital, said Monday. 

Toronto resident Sasha Wittes Libin, who is 17 weeks pregnant, has been trying to get vaccinated without success.

“I think it’s time, based on the ICU rates … and how sick people are getting,” she said.

“Where is Ontario going wrong, and why do we not matter?” 

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