Pregnant women are at high risk for severe disease from COVID-19, yet nationally only about 35% have been fully vaccinated, with rates even lower among Latinx and Black mothers-to-be. By educating patients and addressing their fears around receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, Kaiser Permanente Northern California has fully vaccinated 68% of its pregnant patients, while an additional 3% have received at least one shot.
“We have reassured our patients of the safety and efficacy of the vaccine for them and their baby at every venue of care,” said Kari Carlson, MD, director of Women’s Health for Kaiser Permanente Northern California.
Through a multidisciplinary approach involving obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, infectious disease, and nursing, the organization has successfully engaged pregnant patients at every stage of pregnancy to encourage them to get vaccinated.
A comprehensive approach
A patient email campaign was successful in helping educate soon-to-be moms on the various ways to get vaccinated, the possible consequences of remaining unvaccinated, including a link between infection during pregnancy and preterm birth, and the overall safety of getting vaccinated while pregnant. Patients in their last trimester also receive emails about COVID-19 precautions and visitor policies in place at the hospital and how to prepare for delivery.
Physicians and staff have conversations with patients throughout their pre- and post-natal care on the importance of getting vaccinated, including the COVID-19 immunity benefits that can be passed on to their babies through the placenta and breast milk.
“Getting patients vaccinated is the highest priority,” said Mara Greenburg, MD, perinatal clinical and research director of the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Perinatal Service Center. “We have taken a personalized, evidence-based approach that continues to evolve with the changing pandemic.”
Boosting vaccine confidence
Pregnant patients are a population shown to be historically hesitant to undergo a variety of medical treatments because they worry about potential effects on the fetus, making the dispelling of myths about the COVID-19 vaccine integral to vaccinating as many women as possible.
“We start out asking, ‘What are your concerns?’” said Dr. Carlson. “It is not our place to force our patients to do something, but to present the facts, data, treatment options, and engage in shared decision making.”
Women of color have lower vaccination rates and are disproportionately infected by COVID-19. Kaiser Permanente Northern California physicians and staff underwent cultural sensitivity training in how to talk to patients about vaccine acceptance.
“We start out asking ‘What are your concerns?’ It is not our place to force our patients to do something, but to present the facts, data, treatment options, and engage in shared decision making.”
Town halls have been held throughout the course of the pandemic to educate Northern California maternity physicians and staff on culturally responsive care approaches, best practices, and methods of how to best engage patients in vaccination education.
One held in September specifically targeted maternity providers and nurse leaders who serve communities in the Central Valley, where there are some of the highest rates of COVID-19 infection in the state and the population is predominantly people of color.
“We are really helping close the gap on some of our more vulnerable populations,” said Adrienne M. McIntyre, interim regional director of Patient Care Services for Maternal Child Health. “We saw vaccination rates increase after that town hall, which is really promising.”
Read more facts about COVID-19 and pregnancy.