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Pregnant women hit hard by COVID-19 as doctors urge vaccines

Pregnant women are at increased risk for severe illness or death when infected with COVID-19. Many expectant mothers have chosen not to get vaccinated, something doctors hope to change.
Posted at 5:15 AM, Dec 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-14 11:25:16-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Pregnant women across the U.S. are fighting severe cases of COVID-19, putting both mother and baby at risk.

“We have seen some very sort of devastating outcomes, not just here in Tucson but across the state and across the country,” said Dr. Francisco Garcia, Pima County’s Chief Medical Officer.

Garcia and his wife are also obstetricians and gynecologists, or OB/GYNs, who care for women during pregnancy and childbirth.

“[My wife] routinely tells me about the heartbreaking situations patients find themselves,” Garcia said. “The pregnancy itself places a lot of stress on that individual and affects the function of her lungs, affects the function of a lot of different organ systems. And that’s precisely why pregnant women who come down with COVID are particularly vulnerable for developing pulmonary complications.”

Pregnancy and Covid Stats

Dr. Leslie Farland, an epidemiologist specializing in women’s reproductive health and an associate professor at the University of Arizona, says there have been more than 190 studies on the topic so far.

“When you combine information on all of those studies, the research is clear,” Farland said. “Pregnant people who have been infected with COVID-19, compared with pregnant people who haven’t, are 18 times more likely to be admitted to the ICU. And they’re nearly three times more likely to die, or have a stillbirth or neonatal death.”

Many expectant mothers have been hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Garcia did not provide a specific number but said, “a very substantial percentage are unvaccinated.”

There are a number of reasons for the hesitation, but the most common seem to be pregnant women worrying that the shot will harm their baby or lead to infertility.

Health experts emphasize that there is no evidence to back up those claims. The greater medical community strongly supports the COVID vaccines as “safe and effective.”

That includes the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health, who all recommend the COVID vaccine for any eligible people, including those who are pregnant.

“It’s the best thing a mom can do to protect herself and to protect her baby,” Farland said. “It was scary a year ago because all of the clinical trials had purposefully excluded pregnant people… Some people got pregnant by accident during those trials, and so that was kind of our first level of information. And now we have an entire year of information.”

“The COVID vaccination is safe, effective and should be undertaken by every single woman who is pregnant,” Garcia said.

Studies even show getting vaccinated while pregnant passes protective antibodies on to the newborn.

For those who are pregnant and have gotten the vaccine, experts say getting a booster shot when eligible is also critically important in staying protected.