Dr. Karen Fleming and Dr. Kate Stead are family physicians in the Sunnybrook Department of Family and Community Medicine and are part of a team who care for pregnant people. They say many patients have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. Below, the two doctors speak about what it’s like to have these vaccine conversations with patients.
Leveraging a long-standing relationship
Dr. Karen Fleming: In most cases, we’ve known our patients for years, and there’s a level of trust. Patients often feel comfortable talking to us about their concerns related to many health issues, including COVID-19 vaccines during pregnancy.
Dr. Kate Stead: I agree. I think at first sometimes patients feel a bit worried if they reveal they haven’t received their COVID-19 vaccine. I always reassure them it’s a safe space and that as family doctors we’re here to help.
Dr. Karen Fleming: Absolutely! I’m so happy when patients ask questions; it’s a privilege to help guide decisions about their health. I reassure patients about what we do know: that vaccines have been safely given during pregnancy for decades. For example, the flu vaccine and the whooping cough vaccine. Vaccination is a standard part of what we do while caring for you during pregnancy.
Dr. Kate Stead: As family doctors who follow patients throughout their lifetime, our work is to help our patients have as healthy a life as possible. The COVID-19 vaccines are new, but the research shows they’re very effective at preventing hospitalization and reducing the chance you’ll be admitted to an intensive care unit. There’s also research that shows the antibodies are transferred to your baby through the placenta and evidence that antibodies are passed in breast milk.
Taking time to listen
Dr. Karen Fleming: Recently, I was speaking with a pregnant patient about the COVID-19 vaccine. At first, she said there was no way she could get the vaccine. We kept chatting and it came out that she’s really anxious about getting needles. I told her about CAMH’s special vaccine clinic for those with needle phobias and she was able to make an appointment. Often there’s an underlying fear that we can work through together.
Dr. Kate Stead: I’ve found the same thing. Sometimes I’ll ask patients if they’ve had an opportunity to get the vaccine and they respond they haven’t. It’s good to start the conversation and learn more about their perspectives and experience. The bottom line is that I always reassure my patients: “I care about you and I’m here for you.”
Dr. Karen Fleming is Chief of Sunnybrook’s Department of Family and Community Medicine. Dr. Kate Stead is the Social Accountability and Global Health Lead in the Department of Family and Community Medicine.