Central Texas doctors say the number of pregnant women being hospitalized with COVID-19 has increased significantly. Some have been put on ventilators; others are on life support. Doctors who specialize in maternal and fetal care are urging pregnant people who have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19 to get the vaccine now.
Dr. Jessica Ehrig specializes in maternal-fetal medicine at the Baylor Scott & White Clinic in Temple, Texas. She told Texas Standard that what she’s seen among patients during the recent spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus has been very different than what she saw during previous surges.
“We’re taking care of more ICU-critical pregnant patients right now than we have ever before in the pandemic,” she said.
Before the delta variant, Ehrig says pregnant women with COVID-19 wouldn’t usually experience symptoms. Only occasionally would a pregnant woman require hospitalization. But that is changing, she says.
“With the COVID [delta] variant and with the surge that we’re seeing, they’re more likely to be hospitalized, they’re more likely to end up in the ICU, they’re more likely to be intubated, they’re more likely to need life support measures like ECMO [extracorporeal membrane oxygenation] and unfortunately, they’re at increased risk of maternal death as well,” Ehrig said.
ECMO is a treatment that pumps and oxygenates blood outside of the body.
Ehrig says her hospital is seeing more pregnant patients now than it has at any other time during the pandemic.
She says many pregnant women fear COVID-19 vaccines because they’re uncertain of the potential impact on their unborn child. That hesitancy is having an effect on the overall vaccination rates of pregnant women.
“Unfortunately, our pregnant population has some of the lowest vaccine rates of any population,” Ehrig said.
But she and other doctors try to educate pregnant women about the risks they and their babies face if they contract COVID-19, including premature birth, growth restriction and stillbirth.
“We can prevent some of this with the vaccine,” Ehrig said. “And right now, we have more vaccine safety then we had seven months ago.”
Ehrig says that 140,000 pregnant women nationwide have gotten the vaccine, and a study of 35,000 women, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, found no increase in side effects or negative consequences for babies born to those women. She says the antibodies provided by the vaccine not only protected the pregnant women, but their babies as well.
“These same antibodies are found in breast milk for moms, after they deliver, so [they] continue to provide protection for baby after delivery,” she said.
Ehrig says the spread of the delta variant of COVID-19 is a crisis, and says getting vaccinated is an important means of reducing its impact.
“The best way to protect your baby and yourself is for you to get vaccinated,” Ehrig said.
She says family members should also be vaccinated, wear masks and maintain social distance whenever possible.