How Serious is COVID-19 for Pregnant Women?
In August of 2021 alone, 22 pregnant women in the US died of COVID-19.
Data from the CDC showed after the Delta variant arrived, the risk of stillbirth was four times higher for women with COVID-19 versus women who did not have the virus. That’s a significant rise from pre-Delta data which showed the increased risk of stillbirth for women with COVID-19 was about 1.5 times that of women who did not have the virus.
The risks are so concerning, the CDC released an urgent health advisory last September aimed at pregnant, recently pregnant and women trying to become pregnant. It included findings that pregnant women symptomatic with a COVID-19 infection experienced:
- Two-fold risk of admission into intensive care
- 70 percent increased risk of death
- Increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes (preterm birth, stillbirth, admission to ICU for newborn with COVID-19)
Many women took a wait-and-see approach to COVID-19 vaccination. That may be one reason only 31 percent of pregnant women have received the COVID-19 vaccine, and that rate is lower for Hispanic and Latino women (25 percent) and black women (15.6 percent).
Vaccination is Recommended During Pregnancy
There’s no reason to wait. The CDC strongly recommends COVID-19 vaccination before or during pregnancy because it can prevent severe illness, death and pregnancy complications related to COVID-19. Also, the benefits for mom and baby outweigh known or potential risks.
Misinformation about vaccine safety has also caused hesitancy among pregnant women. Now, nearly a year after the COVID-19 vaccines were first made available, we understand more than ever about what happens when pregnant women receive a vaccine. According to the CDC:
- When pregnant people receive an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy, their bodies build antibodies against COVID-19, similar to non-pregnant people.
- Antibodies made after a pregnant person received an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine were found in umbilical cord blood.
- This means COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy might help protect babies against COVID-19.
According to the latest CDC data, the risk for stillbirth was significantly higher during the period of Delta predominance than during the pre-Delta period.
- Pre-Delta period (March 2020–June 2021)
- 6,983 stillbirths were documented
- 0.98% of deliveries with COVID-19
- 0.64% of deliveries without COVID-19
- Delta period (July–September 2021)
- 1,171 stillbirths were documented,
- 2.70% of deliveries with COVID-19
- 0.63% of deliveries without COVID-19
Some underlying medical conditions and other factors can further increase a pregnant or recently pregnant woman’s risk for developing severe COVID-19 illness. People who live with, or visit, pregnant and recently pregnant people should also take steps to protect themselves from COVID-19 with a vaccine. If you have concerns, my best advice is to talk to your health care provider.