Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Thursday that Covid-19 deaths among pregnant women reached a record high of 21 in August, urging expectant mothers to get vaccinated against the virus.
Just 31% of pregnant women nationwide are vaccinated, even though pregnant women with Covid are likelier to experience dangerous symptoms that jeopardize their infants’ health, she said. Walensky’s comments came just a day after the CDC announced a health advisory for pregnant women to get vaccinated to reduce the risk of contracting a severe case of Covid.
“Compared with pregnant women without Covid, pregnant women with Covid are more likely to have a preterm birth or a stillbirth,” Walensky said during a presentation to the Infectious Disease Society of America. “And this very much demonstrates with a huge amount of evidence that pregnant women are at high risk of Covid-19, and their babies are at high risk as well.”
More than 120,000 pregnant women in the U.S. have been diagnosed with Covid, and Walensky added that more than 5,000 pregnant women have participated in the agency’s vaccine safety monitoring programs. Roughly half of those studied received the Pfizer vaccine, about 44% got Moderna’s and approximately 5% were immunized by Johnson & Johnson.
Walensky said that studying the participants enabled the CDC to determine that Covid vaccines have no impact on increasing the potential for miscarriage. CDC officials expanded on those findings at a Sept. 22 meeting of the agency’s vaccine advisory committee, reporting a 12.8% risk of miscarriage by the 20th week of gestation among 2,456 pregnant individuals inoculated with Pfizer or Moderna.
The risk of miscarriage measured in the study aligns with the normal risk of miscarriage after adjusting for the mom’s age, officials said. But unvaccinated pregnant women are more than twice as likely than non-pregnant women to need intensive care and a ventilator when they contract Covid, Walensky added.
The CDC studied 1,634 babies born to mothers immunized against Covid as well, reporting 45 with birth defects — similar rates as babies born to healthy mothers. There were also 99 preterm infants, 45 considered small for their gestational age and 158 requiring intensive care. Officials found no evidence of rare types or clusters of birth defects.
Researchers from the HealthPartners Institute also told the CDC’s advisory panel that Covid vaccines are not associated with stillbirths. An analysis of the CDC’s Vaccine Safety Datalink found that pregnant people inoculated against Covid delivered 11,300 live births and 26 stillbirths from December through July. The majority of the stillbirths in the study resulted from placental complications, obstetric complications and maternal comorbidities.