Pregnant women are more likely to die or develop complications in pregnancy if they catch Covid-19 during pregnancy, according to research published in BMJ Global Health.
The new study found that pregnant women are seven times more likely to die and face a significantly increased risk of being admitted to intensive care if they are infected with Covid-19 during pregnancy, compared to women who did not catch Covid-19 during pregnancy.
Babies born to mothers who had the infection during pregnancy were also more likely to be born pre-term, and admission rates to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) were higher.
The research was undertaken at The George Washington University and highlights the risks of catching Covid-19 at any stage of pregnancy for both the mother and baby. The researchers are calling for women of childbearing age to get vaccinated.
In the UK, over 250,000 women have been vaccinated before giving birth, but many women worldwide of childbearing age remain unvaccinated. Concerns arise around the vaccine’s safety during pregnancy and the mistaken belief that younger women are not at risk. The researchers report that doctors may hesitate to give the vaccine to pregnant women, and more than 80 countries do not recommend that pregnant and lactating women get the Covid vaccine.
The study is one of the largest in the world to compare people who had Covid-19 during pregnancy with people who and people who were not infected during pregnancy. The researchers screened 137 studies for suitability of inclusion and subsequently analysed individual patient data from twelve studies. This included 13,136 pregnant women in twelve countries and covered each trimester of pregnancy.
The findings show that Covid-19 infection anytime during pregnancy increases the risk of maternal death, severe maternal morbidities and neonatal morbidity. Rates of stillbirth or intrauterine growth restriction were not found to be affected.
Pregnant women with a Covid-19 infection were seven times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than an uninfected pregnant woman. They had a three times higher risk of being admitted to intensive care, and the authors note that people with Covid-19 infections who need ICU care are more likely to die.
In addition, infected mothers had a 15 times higher risk of needing ventilator treatment and approximately 23 times higher risk of developing pneumonia. Other hazards included five times the risk of developing thromboembolic disease, or blood clots, that can cause pain, swelling, or other life-threatening complications.
Emily Smith, an assistant professor of global health at the George Washington University and lead author of the study, said: ‘This study provides the most comprehensive evidence to date suggesting that Covid-19 is a threat during pregnancy.’
Babies born to women infected with Covid-19 were at higher risk of being born prematurely and were almost twice as likely to be admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit after birth.
Smith added: ‘It’s really important if you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant that you get vaccinated. This can really reduce the risks and having some of these bad outcomes for mom or baby. All countries should make access to Covid vaccines an urgent priority in order to save lives and prevent health problems.’