Now that we're a year and a half into the pandemic, larger studies are being released with more information on just how seriously the COVID-19 virus impacts certain population groups—namely, pregnant women.
A new cohort study published in JAMA Network Open, a publication of the American Medical Association, looked at 869,079 pregnant women who delivered in university-based hospital systems over the span of a full year, between March 1, 2020, and Feb. 28, 2021. Of the total, 18,715 patients (2.2%) were recorded as having been infected with COVID-19.
The study's authors discovered that infected patients were 40% more likely to deliver their babies prematurely (birth before 37 weeks), had higher rates of intensive care unit (ICU) admission, an increased need for mechanical respirators and were 10 times more likely to die in childbirth than pregnant women without COVID.
Previous studies have shown that pregnant patients with COVID-19 also experience higher rates of preeclampsia, kidney failure and cardiac events, an increased risk of blood clots and a higher rate of infection requiring antibiotics.
With the twice-as-contagious Delta variant of the virus in high transmission, more and more unvaccinated individuals are getting infected—and that includes large numbers of pregnant people. According to mid-August statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), still only 23.8% of pregnant women have received the COVID-19 vaccine.
"We actually don't know that pregnant women are more likely to get COVID-19. The issue is those who do get it are more likely to have the severest manifestation of [the disease] — if they get it, they get sicker than women who are not pregnant," said Dr. Jennifer Jolley, co-author of the study and an associate professor of maternal and fetal medicine in UCI Medical Center's OB/GYN department, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
The statistics are scary, but getting vaccinated can help. And if you're vaccinated and still do contract the virus, your risk of severe illness is much, much lower.
The CDC and the country's largest physician associations, such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommend that all pregnant and breastfeeding women receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
"The vaccines are safe and effective, and it has never been more urgent to increase vaccinations as we face the highly transmissible Delta variant and see severe outcomes from COVID-19 among unvaccinated pregnant people," says CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a statement on Aug. 11.
And now that Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine has received full authorization from the FDA, that will hopefully encourage more pregnant and birthing people to get the jab.
"Some women want to know when is the best time during pregnancy to get the COVID vaccine, and as of right now, the answer is as soon as possible. The best thing you can do for your baby is protect yourself as soon as you can," notes Dr. Sarah Hartwick Bjorkman, OB-GYN and Motherly's Maternal Health Advisor.
Getting vaccinated in pregnancy can also help protect your baby after birth: "Studies have shown that there is no increased risk of infertility or miscarriage, while also showing that the protective antibodies mom makes in response to the vaccine do pass to the fetus. Protective antibodies have also been found in breastmilk," Dr. Bjorkman adds.
If you're currently pregnant or have recently been pregnant, talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated. It's so important, and the data supporting vaccinations in pregnancy "is very, very reassuring," says Dr. Bjorkman.
Dr. Sarah Hartwick Bjorkman, OB-GYN and Motherly's Maternal Health Advisor
Chinn J, Sedighim S, Kirby KA, et al. Characteristics and Outcomes of Women With COVID-19 Giving Birth at US Academic Centers During the COVID-19 Pandemic. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(8):e2120456. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.20456
Ko JY, DeSisto CL, Simeone RM, et al. Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes, Maternal Complications, and Severe Illness Among US Delivery Hospitalizations With and Without a Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Diagnosis. Clin Infect Dis. 2021;73(Suppl 1):S24-S31. doi:10.1093/cid/ciab344
Villar J, Ariff S, Gunier RB, et al. Maternal and Neonatal Morbidity and Mortality Among Pregnant Women With and Without COVID-19 Infection: The INTERCOVID Multinational Cohort Study. JAMA Pediatr. 2021;175(8):817–826. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.1050