In Texas, if you’re pregnant, you’re currently eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as part of the Phase 1B rollout.
But knowledge about how the new coronavirus affects pregnant women has evolved over the course of the pandemic. UT Health-Austin maternal-fetal medicine specialist Dr. Allison Cahill says doctors have learned more about the impacts of the disease over the last several months.
The latest on pregnancy and COVID-19 risk:
“Over the last few months, data has emerged from a few large observational studies, most of which have been published by the CDC, describing that women who are pregnant, compared to their peers of the same age who are not pregnant, seem to have an increased risk of more severe forms of the disease, such as being admitted to the [Intensive Care Unit] and needing to be put on a ventilator.”
How knowledge about the risks to pregnant women has evolved:
Cahill says the increased risks of COVID-19 to pregnant women were not immediately as clear as they were with other new diseases, like flu from the H1N1 virus.
“Very quickly, after H1N1 emerged, we saw a signal of increased disease severity and even death in women who were pregnant. But the increased risk [with COVID-19] is less demonstrable than H1N1, but still seems to be present. It just took us a little bit longer to understand that.”
Why COVID-19 puts pregnant women at higher risk:
Cahill says the exact answer won’t be determined for a while, but doctors do have some theories.
“Generally, there are some normal physiologic changes of many of the organ systems for women to be able to safely accommodate carrying a pregnancy, and that includes the respiratory tract. So that’s probably the No. 1 thing that puts women at higher risk for respiratory diseases. But in terms of the alterations in immunity during pregnancy and how that might influence the risk, we just don’t know that yet.”
The risks of COVID-19 for a fetus:
“It’s problematic for the baby by way of making mom sicker. So sick mom typically puts babies at risk as well. And that’s true not directly from the disease itself, but any time moms have severe respiratory illness, that does put the pregnancy at risk.”
Advice on vaccination:
“We’re recommending that patients talk to their physicians about the risks and benefits of getting the vaccine. You know, the risks are really theoretic compared to the real risks that we know of, disease severity and pregnant women. So that’s an important conversation for pregnant women to have with their physicians,” Cahill said. “In terms of women who are breastfeeding or lactating, there’s really no concerns with respect to the vaccine. So we would like them to consider getting the vaccine just as if they weren’t breastfeeding.”
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