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COVID-19 and pregnancy: Virus can be deadly

Study says COVID-19 puts mother and baby at risk of severe complications, even death.

Infant Photo: Getty Images

Individuals who contract COVID-19 while pregnant face a higher risk of complications, even death, as does their unborn child, according to new research.

A study in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, evaluated the association of COVID-19 on maternal morbidity and complications. The study followed 14,104 pregnant and postpartum patients between March and December 2020 at 17 US hospitals. The finding show that infected pregnant people experienced an overall 40% higher risk of complications than infected non-pregnant people. These risks could be attributed to the virus itself as well as possible delays in care associated with the pandemic.

Here, VCU Health obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Amanda Ritter explains the research findings and what you can do to stay safe.

Amanda RitterHow did COVID-19 affect the pregnant individuals?

Pregnant individuals experienced higher rates of complications, such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Bleeding after delivery
  • Other infections, such as wound infection after delivery
  • Death

How did COVID-19 affect the newborns?

Newborns faced a higher risk of:

  • Preterm birth
  • Admission to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit)

These conditions can affect a child’s survival and development.

Did it matter how severe the symptoms?

The risks were higher if COVID-19 symptoms were moderate to severe — for instance, if the mother was hospitalized and required oxygen or intubation.

What about those other factors?

The study took place in early 2020, when the pandemic was new. Many people were afraid to go to hospitals, clinics, even their doctor’s office, for fear of getting COVID. Many people who were pregnant delayed seeing their doctor for prenatal care. That could have affected outcomes. Also, hospital staff were — and still are — required to wear special protective gear when treating patients with COVID-19. The additional time needed to follow new safety requirements and don/doff protective gear for patients with COVID-19 could have delayed care just enough to worsen emergent situations.

What can people who are pregnant or want to get pregnant do to avoid those complications?

Get vaccinated and boosted. Vaccination is your No. 1 way to avoid COVID-19 altogether.

Although the CDC has relaxed its masking guidelines in areas of lower transmission, I still recommend masks in public indoor areas and maintaining a safe, 6-foot distance from those outside your immediate family.

Also important — don’t put off your prenatal care. Keep all your scheduled appointments and alert your doctor to any changes in your health. 

Are there any risks to the vaccine?

No. The vaccine is safe for pregnant people and their newborn. In fact, when you get vaccinated, the antibodies your body makes helps protect babies from the virus.

There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines cause miscarriages.

Where can I get vaccinated?

Most pharmacies and grocery stories offer the vaccine. Visit the Virginia Department of Health for locations near you.

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