New mom urges Manitobans to take COVID-19 seriously after baby born 6 weeks premature

Alexa Forbes, 25, warns people to continue to follow public health advice after she got COVID-19 last month and delivered her son six weeks early. The illness is associated with a higher risk of preterm or stillbirth, experts say.

Experts want pregnant people, who are at elevated risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes, prioritized for vaccine

Keith Forbes was born on March 20, six weeks early. His mother, Alexa Forbes, was asymptomatic and tested positive for COVID-19 in hospital. Her doctor told her COVID-19 was at play in Keith's premature arrival. (Submitted by Alexa Forbes)

Baby Keith Forbes made an early arrival late last month, which his 25-year-old mother describes as the scariest thing that's ever happened to her.

Alexa Forbes's water broke in the middle of a meeting at work — six weeks ahead of schedule. 

When she arrived at the hospital, she tested positive for COVID-19, making her one of about 400 pregnant people in Manitoba to contract the illness so far, according to provincial data.

"I'm like, 'Impossible! I have no symptoms,'" she said.

Those symptoms appeared a couple of days later, including a bad cough, muscle aches and a high fever.

"I was just a mess," Forbes said.

She huffed in and out through a mask during 36 hours of contractions, made even more difficult due to her respiratory symptoms. Her oxygen levels dropped and her baby's blood pressure shot up to a crisis-level range.

Keith was born on March 20, weighing in at five pounds and four ounces— and without COVID.

"That would've been a huge issue," said Forbes. "We lucked out."

WATCH | Alexa Forbes describes her diagnosis and baby Keith's birth:

Mom got 'hit like a wall' by COVID-19 in premature birth

1 year ago
Duration 2:35
Alexa Forbes says the birth of her baby Keith was one of the scariest things that's ever happened to her. Her water broke six weeks early, and in hospital she tested positive for COVID-19, despite being asymptomatic.

Even so, Keith spent the next 10 days in the neonatal intensive care unit, separated from mom and dad.

"I was just a wreck," says Forbes. "It was very stressful. They plopped him on my chest for maybe a minute … and then immediately the NICU team rushed him away."

Forbes's doctor told her COVID-19 was responsible for her situation, Forbes said. She is sharing her story in hopes of encouraging Manitobans to get vaccinated as soon as possible, and to take the ongoing threat posed by COVID-19 seriously amid the province's third wave.

Prioritizing pregnant people for vaccine

Dr. Nathalie Auger, a physician epidemiologist at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre, said Forbes's overall experience with COVID-19 makes sense given what's known now about the disease.

It's associated with a higher risk of preterm, stillbirth and pre-eclampsia — which involves high blood pressure and possible organ damage — according to a broad review of the research by Auger and others published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in January.

Those risks are why a growing number of experts are calling for pregnant people to be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccination.

Pregnancy itself is a risk factor for more serious COVID-19 outcomes, and early signs suggest coronavirus variants seem to result in even more severe effects, says pediatrician and infectious diseases specialist Dr. Anna Banerji.

WATCH | Pediatrician discusses risks of COVID-19 during pregnancy:

It's safer for pregnant people to get vaccinated than risk getting COVID, says Dr. Anna Banerj

1 year ago
Duration 2:26
Dr. Anna Banerj, an infectious disease specialist at the Lana School of Public Health and Temerty Faculty of Medicine in Toronto, says some pregnant patients are feeling anxious about COVID-19 and getting vaccinated. She says the benefits of getting vaccinated outweigh the risks of getting COVID-19.

Some pregnant patients have concerns about the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, she says. There's about a one in 250,000 chance of developing a rare but serious blood clot associated with that vaccine, according to recent research. Clotting in Europe happened primarily in young women.

But an Oxford study suggests people are eight to 10 times more likely to develop a clot after contracting COVID-19 than from a vaccine. Banerji said the overall risk of dying of COVID-19 in Canada works out to around one in 1,500.

"It seems to be safer to get the vaccine, even if it's AstraZeneca," she said.

Health Canada approved AstraZeneca's use for anyone aged 18 and up in February, and several provinces just expanded eligibility to those 40 and up

Pregnant people with COVID-19 are at increased risk of hospitalization and ending up in intensive care or on a ventilator, said Dr. Vanessa Poliquin, an obstetrician gynecologist and reproductive infectious diseases expert in Winnipeg.

WATCH | Dr. Poliquin on COVID-19 risk and vaccination:

Pregnant people should be prioritized for vaccine, says Dr. Vanessa Poliquin

1 year ago
Duration 2:18
Dr. Vanessa Poliquin is an obstetrician gynecologist and co-chair of the infectious disease committee for the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. The association wants all pregnant people prioritized for vaccination, says Poliquin.

Poliquin is co-chair of the infectious disease committee for the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, which recently called for pregnant people to be prioritized for vaccines.

At least three provinces have already heeded that call — Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Ontario.

"There have been no signals of adverse impact of COVID vaccines on pregnancy, so I am of the opinion that every pregnant woman should be eligible for a COVID vaccine, given that we're entering a third wave," said Poliquin.

Forbes is warning Manitobans to continue to follow public health advice after she got COVID-19 last month. (Submitted by Alexa Forbes)

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization advises health professionals to do a risk assessment and inform patients there isn't much data yet on pregnancy and COVID-19 vaccination, but still suggests the benefits outweigh the risks of the illness.

This week, Forbes was hospitalized with a blood clot in her leg. Doctors told her blood clots are a risk post-pregnancy, and that she was at higher risk because she had COVID.

She's still in hospital right now and she'll have to inject herself with blood thinners twice a day for the next three months.

Alexa Forbes was hospitalized this week with a blood clot in her left leg post-pregnancy. Doctors told her she was at elevated risk for blood clots because she had COVID-19. (Submitted by Alexa Forbes)

She has the same attitude she did before: She would've "loved" to be vaccinated while pregnant, if she'd been eligible.

Forbes wants others to get vaccinated when they can.

"It's not about you. It's about other people like me with low immune systems because we're pregnant. It's about your grandparents. It's about anybody with an immunocompromised system," she said. 

"You have more chances of getting blood clots from something else than you do from these vaccines."

WATCH | Manitoba not yet prioritizing pregnant people: vaccine task force leader:

Manitoba open to prioritize pregnant people if necessary, says vaccine task force leader

1 year ago
Duration 0:42
Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of Manitoba's vaccine task force, said on Wednesday presently pregnant people who get COVID-19 in Manitoba don't appear to be at heightened risk, but if that changes locally the province would consider prioritizing them for vaccines.


Bryce Hoye


Bryce Hoye is a multi-platform Manitoba journalist covering news, science, justice, health, 2SLGBTQ issues and other community stories. He has a background in wildlife biology and occasionally works for CBC's Quirks & Quarks and Front Burner. He won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award for a 2017 feature on the history of the fur trade. He is also Prairie rep for outCBC.

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