The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is, for the first time, strongly urging women who are pregnant and breastfeeding to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Though many medical groups have recommended that pregnant women get the vaccine for several months now, the CDC guidance has been updated to reflect new safety data and to definitively answer the question on whether pregnant women can get the COVID vaccine.
The study, conducted among 2,500 women who received at least one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine before 20 weeks of pregnancy, found no increased risks of miscarriage or other complications. In fact, the analysis saw a miscarriage rate of 13%, well within the normal range.
Public health officials hope that the new guidance will help sway those who are wary or undecided about getting the vaccine. When unvaccinated, pregnant women are at heightened risks of complications from contracting the coronavirus, including pre-eclampsia, miscarriages, preterm births, stillbirths, and death. The virus can even be transmitted from the mother to the fetus in the womb in rare instances.
Yet, according to CDC data, only about 23% of pregnant women have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“CDC encourages all pregnant people or people who are thinking about becoming pregnant and those breastfeeding to get vaccinated to protect themselves from COVID-19,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a statement on Aug. 11. “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.”
With the delta variant now surging, hospitals in states with low vaccination rates are starting to see an influx of pregnant patients. In some cases, the numbers of sick expectant mothers are even higher than before vaccines were available.
“This is by far the worst we’ve seen in the pandemic,” Dr. Jane Martin, an obstetrician with New Orleans’ Ochsner Baptist Medical Center, told the Associated Press. “It’s disheartening and it’s exhausting. It feels like it doesn’t have to be like this.”
Until recently, Martin said that her facility hadn’t seen many pregnant patients sick with COVID-19, even at the pandemic’s beginning and during each surge. Now, she says she’s seen at least 30 pregnant women hospitalized with COVID-19 in the last two weeks alone. Of the “multiple critically ill pregnant patients” admitted daily, she says most require intensive care. And few are vaccinated.
“A week or two ago that pace changed drastically,” added Martin.
According to the CDC, there have been 105,000 pregnant U.S. women infected with COVID-19 to date. Almost 18,000 have been hospitalized, about one-quarter of those have received intensive care, and 124 have died. In addition, expectant mothers are at even more high risk of severe complications due to pregnancy-related changes in body functions, such as reduced lung capacity and the immune system adapting to help protect the fetus.
However, the reason for many expecting mothers’ reluctance to get the vaccine is that early vaccine trials did not include pregnant women. Limited data and anecdotal evidence have long since suggested that the vaccines were not unsafe for pregnant people.
Dr. Sascha R. Ellington, a CDC epidemiologist who leads the emergency preparedness response team in the division of reproductive health, told the New York Times that no safety issues have been identified in the small number of pregnancies immunized obstetric patients have carried to term.
“At this time, the benefits of vaccination, and the known risks of COVID-19 during pregnancy and the high rates of transmission right now, outweigh any theoretical risks of the vaccine,” said Ellington.
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