COVID-19 causes serious health problems during pregnancy, new data review finds

Jan. 20, 2023, 1:11 p.m. ·

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Expectant mothers have an increased risk of adverse health effects when infected with COVID-19, according to a new review of data in the health journal BMJ Global Health.

The review shows pregnant people who had COVID were nearly four times as likely to require intensive care. They were also nearly eight times as likely to die, compared to pregnant women who didn’t have COVID-19.

UNMC infectious disease specialist Dr. Mark Rupp said the virus doesn’t only affect pregnant people.

“They also found that for the newborn baby, that it will significantly increase risk of being born low eight and also having premature birth,” Rupp said.

The study, which included data from the United States, Hong Kong, Sweden, Turkey and other countries, also shows pregnant women have a 41% increased risk of admission to an intensive care unit when they contract COVID. Statistics show they also have an increased risk of developing blood clots during a COVID infection.

Rupp says the best protection against those outcomes is getting vaccinated. Vaccinated, expectant moms can also pass along antibodies and protection from COVID-19 to their newborns.

“The newborn baby gets what we call passive immunity – meaning that they don't have to get a shot. They don't have to get sick from disease and they will have some protection passed on from their mother, that also will wane over time,” Rupp said.

Despite data indicating COVID-19 vaccinations are safe, vaccination rates among pregnant women are down across the country. Rupp said he understands pregnant people don’t want to introduce new things into their body, but COVID-19 vaccinations, like flu shots, are proven to help keep moms and their babies out of the hospital.

“The vaccine has been given literally in millions of doses to pregnant women across the globe, there is not a safety signal that it causes problems either in the pregnant woman or in her developing child.”

Overall, Rupp said it would be beneficial to have more people vaccinated against COVID-19 to ease the strain on Nebraska hospitals, which are still understaffed and near capacity.

“It doesn't take very much now for the health care system to really be taxed,” Rupp said. “We saw that with relatively minor bumps in RSV with influenza [in 2022] and now with COVID-19. We are seeing some increasing signals for hospitalization in the Northeast, and we fear that that will come to our region as well in the coming weeks.”