Pregnant women diagnosed with COVID-19 have a higher risk of severe maternal morbidity and mortality and neonatal complications compared to those without COVID-19, according to recent findings published in JAMA Pediatrics.
The study underscores the need for pregnant women and healthcare providers to strictly implement recommended COVID-19 preventive measures as soon as possible.
“These mothers should be taken care of earlier, with more vigilance, and we must protect them from infection because the complications of pregnancy alone will put the baby and their life at risk,” said Jagjit Teji, MD, health system clinician of Pediatrics in the Division of Hospital-Based Medicine and a co-author of the study.
Historically, pregnant women have been excluded from scientific research and clinical trials. Yet these women are at increased risk for developing disease and severe infection due to immune system changes throughout the course of their pregnancy.
Previous work also found pregnant women who were infected with coronaviruses such as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) had an increased risk of poor health outcomes, spurring the need for the current study regarding COVID-19 infection in pregnant women, according to Teji.
From March to October 2020, the investigators observed more than 700 pregnant women with COVID-19 and more than 1,400 without COVID-19 at 43 academic health centers from 18 different countries. The women were an average age of 30 years; both the women and their babies were observed until they were discharged from the hospital.
The study found that pregnant women with COVID-19 had an increased risk for preeclampsia, severe infection, admission to an intensive care unit, maternal mortality, preterm childbirth, medically indicated preterm childbirth, neonatal morbidity and perinatal morbidity.
Specifically, women with COVID-19 who were asymptomatic had an increased risk for only maternal morbidity and preeclampsia compared to women without COVID-19 infection. Among the women with COVID-19, 12 percent of their newborns also tested positive for COVD-19, respectively.
These findings demonstrate an urgent need for public health agencies and healthcare providers to implement strict COVID-19 preventative measures as early as possible. These women should also be prioritized in COVID-19 vaccination efforts, according to Teji, adding that previous work has found that both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are safe for pregnant women and their babies, and some pregnant women who received a COVID-19 vaccine successfully transferred SARS-CoV-2 antibodies to their baby.
“These women should be positioned higher up in the priority ladder for getting vaccinated as compared to what it is right now,” Teji said.
The study was supported by the COVID-19 Research Response Fund from the University of Oxford.