WASHINGTON — Pregnant women who contract COVID-19 are seven times more likely to die, a new study warns. The alarming findings by researchers at George Washington University also suggest that having COVID during pregnancy increases the risk that the baby will need intensive care as well.
Pregnant women omen are also at a “significantly elevated” risk of needing intensive care and 23 times more likely to develop pneumonia, according to the study published in BMJ Global Health. Scientists say their findings add to the urgent calls for more women of childbearing age to get the coronavirus vaccine.
“This study provides the most comprehensive evidence to date suggesting that COVID-19 is a threat during pregnancy,” says Emily Smith, an assistant professor of global health at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, in a media release.
“Our findings underscore the importance of COVID-19 vaccination for all women of childbearing age.”
Despite the growing number of studies examining COVID-19 and pregnancy, researchers say many women in this age range are still unvaccinated. In some cases, women hesitate or avoid the shots and their boosters because they don’t believe the virus poses a severe risk to young women or are unsure about the effects such a vaccine will have on their unborn child.
Prof. Smith says some doctors may also hesitate to give the vaccine to their pregnant patients, despite public health recommendations. The research team pooled patient data from 12 studies conducted in 12 countries, involving more than 13,000 pregnant women.
Results show that, compared to uninfected pregnant women, those infected with COVID-19 were seven times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth. They were also at more than three times more likely to need intensive care while in the hospital.
Pregnant women with COVID were also roughly 15 times more likely to need a ventilator and 23 times more likely to develop pneumonia. The study authors also found that pregnant patients were more than five times more likely to develop blood clots that can cause pain, swelling, or other life-threatening complications. Babies born to women infected with COVID were almost twice as likely to be admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit after birth. These children also faced a higher risk of being born prematurely.
Prof. Smith says, despite the very serious health risks, more than 80 countries still do not recommend that all pregnant women get the coronavirus vaccine. However, the researcher says the analysis provides public health officials and the public with “clear, consistent and compelling” findings.
“This study shows the risk of getting COVID-19 for both mother and baby,” Smith concludes. “All countries, including the United States, should make access to COVID vaccines an urgent priority in order to save lives and prevent health problems.”
South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.