Two major new studies have highlighted how catching COVID-19 during pregnancy can have “devastating consequences” for parents and their babies. However, help is at hand – the data also shows getting vaccinated can help significantly reduce the risk of these disastrous outcomes during pregnancy.
The first study, published on Thursday in the Lancet Digital Health, revealed that people infected with COVID-19 while pregnant were more likely to have poor birth outcomes, ranging from preterm birth to low birth weight and stillbirths.
Meanwhile, another study released the same day in Nature Medicine found that people who have COVID-19 towards the end of their pregnancy are vulnerable to birth-related complications. This was especially noticeable among the unvaccinated population – one of the chief findings was that 98 percent of all pregnant patients admitted to the Intensive Care Unit due to COVID-19 were unvaccinated. Furthermore, all baby deaths occurred to pregnant parents unvaccinated against COVID-19 at the time of infection.
The findings may be startling for soon-to-be parents, but experts say the data indicates how being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 has the power to significantly decrease the risk of COVID-19 affecting pregnant people and their babies.
“This paper shows the devastating consequences contracting COVID-19 in pregnancy can have for mothers and their babies and how crucial it is that pregnant women are vaccinated against the virus,” Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said in a statement on the Nature Medicine study.
Vaccine hesitancy is strikingly prevalent among pregnant people. A survey from June 2021 in the UK found that 58 percent had declined the vaccine when offered. Of those not offered the vaccine yet, 41 percent would “definitely or probably would not accept the vaccine” while 18 percent were undecided. The most common reason behind the hesitancy was worry that it would harm the baby, or they were waiting for more information about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy.
However, there’s solid evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective during pregnancy. It’s also clear that receiving the vaccine while pregnant can help to pass on antibodies to the baby through the umbilical cord. Just as these new studies affirm, many health authorities are now actively encouraging pregnant people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“This [Nature Medicine study] emphasizes the point that pregnant women should be vaccinated; and that being pregnant is an extra reason to be vaccinated, not a contraindication," added Dr Peter English, Retired Consultant in Communicable Disease Control and past Chair of the BMA Public Health Medicine Committee.
“The pandemic is far from over and with tens of thousands of COVID-19 cases still being reported in the UK every day, it is paramount that pregnant women continue to take up the offer of a vaccine," noted Asma Khalil, Professor of Obstetrics and Maternal Fetal Medicine at St George’s, University of London.