A major retailer apologized to a pregnant Alexandria woman after a Virginia pharmacy erroneously denied her the COVID-19 vaccine this week.
The apology comes after News4 reported Tiffany Del Rio was able to book a vaccination appointment at a Kroger pharmacy in Salem, near Roanoke, only for the pharmacy to cancel it days ahead of rolling up her sleeve.
According to Del Rio, a pharmacy employee told her they were canceling it because the Pfizer vaccine is “not recommended” for pregnant women, though state health officials and medical experts have said the coronavirus vaccines should not be withheld from pregnant women. What’s more, the Virginia Department of Health has included pregnancy among the underlying medical conditions that qualify someone to receive the vaccine.
“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,” said Del Rio, who decided to get the vaccine because she has a toddler son and wants to protect her family from COVID-19.
Research shows pregnant women are at higher risk of severe illness from the coronavirus. But, as is common in early drug trials, pregnant and lactating women were excluded from the initial vaccine clinical trials in order to avoid any potential risk to the fetus.
Still, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said women who are pregnant should not be denied the opportunity to receive the potentially life-saving vaccines. And in February, White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said there have been “no red flags” observed in the more than 10,000 pregnant women who have received the shot.
In a statement to News4 on Wednesday, a CDC spokeswoman said pharmacies that participate in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program can administer vaccines according to eligibility criteria chosen by local officials, meaning a jurisdiction might prioritize vaccinating seniors or essential workers first. But “pregnancy should not otherwise preclude an eligible individual from getting vaccinated,” the spokeswoman said.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and The Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine have taken similar stances as the CDC, with ACOG advising, “COVID-19 vaccines should not be withheld from pregnant individuals who meet criteria for vaccination.”
“We should not prevent pregnant or lactating women from getting the vaccine,” said Dr. Tamika Auguste, a MedStar Washington Hospital Center OB/GYN and ACOG boardmember, in a January interview with News4.
“We have to rely on the science,” Auguste continued. “And based on the science, there should be no mal-effect on pregnant women or lactating women in getting the vaccine.”
Del Rio said deciding to get the vaccine wasn’t easy, nor was finally being able to book a vaccine appointment at a time so many want one.
“Being a pregnant woman without a ton of guidance at this point, I’ve done a ton of due diligence myself on what I think is best for me,” she said. “The risk of the vaccine is better for me than getting COVID at this point.”
Del Rio, who said she’s heard from other pregnant women who have been denied a COVID-19 vaccine, initially reached out to Kroger’s customer service about her canceled appointment. She showed News4 an exchange with a customer service representative who wrote: “Please note that this type of decision would be up to the management at your local store. Because of this, we are unable to advise on whether or not they will be capable of meeting your request, and we apologize for that.”
But after inquiries from News4, Kroger issued a statement apologizing to Del Rio for the “frustration and inconvenience” and blamed the decision to cancel her appointment on an “honest mistake due to misinterpretation of the guidelines.”
A Kroger spokesperson said the pharmacists administering vaccines have been “reminded of our current vaccination policies, which includes vaccinating women who are pregnant.”
They’re now offering Del Rio a new appointment.