Ohio health officials on Monday urged pregnant people to get the COVID-19 vaccine, noting August was the deadliest month in the U.S. for pregnant patients.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week 22 deaths among pregnant patients in August, with a total of 161 deaths through the pandemic as of Sept. 27.
There have also been more than 125,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in pregnant people and 22,000 hospitalizations. Of those hospitalized, 97% were unvaccinated.
“As of mid September the CDC said only about 31% of those who are pregnant were fully vaccinated before or during their pregnancy,” Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said. “Right now the majority of pregnant women remain unprotected against COVID-19, putting them and their unborn babies at risk.”
Some of the increased risks during pregnancy include pre-term delivery, NICU admission rates, infant mortality and severe disease, said Dr. Kamilah Dixon-Shambley, assistant professor of OB-GYN at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
“You have a two-fold risk of being admitted into an intensive care unit,” she said. “There is a 70% increased risk of death when you have COVID-19 and you’re pregnant. And that number alone is terrifying for those of us who take care of pregnant people in Ohio.”
Dixon-Shambley noted pregnancy takes patients who are healthy and considered a low-risk of COVID puts them in the high-risk category.
“Additionally if you have other health issues like obesity, asthma or diabetes, you’re at an increased risk for disease when you get COVID during your pregnancy,” she said.
Dr. Lisa Egbert, OB-GYN at Paragon Women’s Care in Dayton and president of the Ohio State Medical Association, said it’s important to recognize “mama bear instincts.”
“Every pregnant woman wants to protect her unborn child,” she said. “So hesitancy is very understandable. That’s why it’s so important for us here and in my office to tell them what we know. We know that we have seen no increased risks of vaccine in pregnancy.”
However, COVID-19 during pregnancy is a significant risk for the mom and baby, Egbert added.
“The risk of the vaccine, which we know is minimal in every study we’ve looked at, versus the risk of COVID in pregnancy is no comparison,” she said.
Dixon-Shambley added that getting the COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant can result in antibodies being passed along to your child.
Antibodies can also be passed to the baby through breastfeeding.
”Even for women who have not been vaccinated during pregnancy, we have steadfastly encouraged them to be vaccinated for breastfeeding because we do know that antibodies passed through the breastmilk to the infant,” Egbert said. “As you know, children under 12 are not able to be vaccinated, so it is one of the few ways that our moms can help protect those babies.”
She added the vaccine does not have an impact on fertility.
“There is no risk to fertility for either male or female,” she said. “If you are thinking about being pregnant, the best thing you can do for your future baby is to be vaccinated prior to pregnancy or during pregnancy.”