Cottage Health is urging all expectant mothers to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible following the release of data suggesting that the virus poses a significant threat to pregnant women and their babies.
According to a report published by JAMA Pediatrics earlier this year, pregnant women who contract COVID-19 are 15 times more likely to die during pregnancy and 22 times more likely to prematurely deliver their baby compared to those who do not contract COVID-19.
More recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supports this conclusion and found that pregnant women are not only more likely to contract serious COVID-19 illness, but are at increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes if they do fall ill to the virus.
It’s these potentially devastating outcomes that have health officials in Santa Barbara County and beyond sounding the alarm for expectant mothers to get the vaccine as soon as possible.
“The COVID vaccines are highly safe during pregnancy and are strongly recommended by expert bodies, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology, and are also endorsed by the Infectious Disease Society of America and the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society,” Dr. David Fisk, a doctor of infection control at Cottage Health and infectious disease specialist at Sansum Clinic, told the News-Press.
“Groups that have studied these issues have come out overwhelmingly saying that pregnant mothers should get vaccinated, and the reasons are that the vaccine remains effective in pregnancy and remains safe,” he added. “The small added risk, very small added risk, that comes with any vaccine and can come along with the COVID vaccine pales in comparison to the dramatic risk of health to COVID.”
A growing body of evidence compiled by the CDC finds there are no significant safety concerns for pregnant women in trials for the three available COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. — the Pfizer, Modern and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Additional studies completed in Israel found that the mRNA Pfizer vaccine lowered the risk of infection among expectant mothers.
In addition to the evidence supporting vaccine safety, Dr. Fisk said pregnant mothers should consider getting the vaccine now as a result of the highly transmissible delta variant.
He said the delta variant has shown to pose higher risk to people in their teens, 20’s and 30’s — ages when many women are in or nearing childbearing years. With pregnancy already putting stress on the heart and lungs of expectant mothers, the potential threat of complications due to the delta variant remains high, Dr. Fisk added.
“We know that pregnancy taxes the body of the mother,” Dr. Fisk said. “The mother’s body is really stressed — many times close to its limit — to carry the pregnancy and deliver a child. A lot of that stress is on the heart and lungs, and the heart and lung function is really close to maxed out in many who are pregnant, particularly the heart function.”
“If you take those stressed hearts and lungs and add all the additional stress that a respiratory pneumonia or viral infection like COVID puts on the lungs, you can see how much of a stress it puts on them and inhibits the ability (of the lungs) to do their job.”
Expectant mothers who get the vaccine not only protect themselves, but also offer protection to their unborn baby, according to Dr. Fisk. When a mother faces complications due to COVID-19 infection, it can affect oxygen reaching the placenta and cause severe brain damage to the fetus or death, Dr. Fisk said.
Studies also suggest that the COVID-19 vaccine produces antibodies that can be passed along to the fetus, according to the CDC. Antibodies have been found in umbilical cord blood, meaning that vaccination during pregnancy could protect the baby from contracting the disease. More data on this topic is still forthcoming, according to the CDC.
Additionally, early findings show that antibodies can be passed through breast milk, showing a “potential protective effect” against infant infection, according to one study published in the JAMA Network suggests.
For expectant mothers who are hesitant about getting the vaccine, Dr. Fisk recommends checking out the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ resources on COVID-19, and also consulting their local medical provider. In addition, he asks mothers to consider the risk not getting the vaccine poses to both their health and their baby’s health.
“I would suggest that the mothers consider strongly that the risk of COVID infection in someone who is unvaccinated is a very significant health risk to them and their baby,” Dr. Fisk said.
“They also should be aware that the vaccine offers dramatic protection against COVID progressing to the serious state that we now know it is much more likely to progress to when someone is pregnant,” he added.
Dr. Fisk also addressed concerns about the risk of blood clotting among pregnant women who receive the vaccine. He said that pregnancy itself comes with an increased risk for blood clots, and that the added risk of getting a blood clot from the vaccine is “extremely small.” In fact, pregnant women are at a much greater risk of obtaining a blood clot if they become ill with COVID-19, according to Dr. Fisk.
“If women are concerned about getting a blood clot while pregnant from a COVID vaccine, they need to be concerned about it when they actually get COVID because the risk is dramatically higher,” he said.
Expectant mothers seeking more information about the COVID-19 vaccine can contact the CDC’s MotherToBaby line at 1-866-626-6847. Experts are available to answer questions in English and Spanish on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.