KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Doctors across the nation are seeing an uptick of unvaccinated pregnant patients ending up in their intensive care units with COVID-19.
With increased risks due to the emergence of the delta variant, an obstetrician at Saint Luke’s Hospital is pleading with mothers to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“Not just hospitalizations but need for ventilators, need for ECMO … Moms are dying this time around with a higher rate than the first time around," Dr. Rebecca Hamel said. "It’s heartbreaking. And so the need to vaccinate is as soon as possible. I would not recommend putting it off.”
Doctors are still seeing widespread vaccine hesitancy among those pregnant in the United States. According to a recent update by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 25% have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine.
As a first-time expecting mother, Hamel understands the concerns.
“Our hearts are in the right place. I can really resonate with this too,” Hamel said. “I get it, you want to make the very best decision you can — for yourself and for the health of your baby. I respect that, and it’s scary to have to look at this new vaccine."
But Hamel encourages parents to consider the benefits of the vaccine.
A recent study published in JAMA Network Open by the American Medical Association states pregnant women infected with COVID-19 are 15 times more likely to die from the virus, 14 times more likely to be intubated, and 22 times more likely to have a preterm birth than those who are uninfected.
“Because of COVID, many obstetricians are seeing moms die, we’re seeing babies die,” Hamel said. “When it comes down to safety for me, it’s an easy decision to recommend vaccination.”
COVID-19 causes blood vessels in the placenta to become inflamed. This makes it difficult for moms to transfer necessary nutrients to the baby.
Consequently, doctors are seeing dire complications like miscarriages, preterm labor and stillbirth. Breathing can also become difficult for a lot of women infected with COVID-19, hindering the flow of oxygen from the mom to the baby.
“It really makes it more difficult to maintain oxygenation that you need to keep your own self healthy. Then you are also growing another human, and you got to maintain oxygenation and provide all the nutrients through the placenta to your baby,” Hamel said.
Hamel says getting vaccinated gives mothers and their babies the best chance at survival, and it is important to break down the misconceptions surrounding the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.
“There’s no increased risk of miscarriage because of the COVID-19 vaccination,” Hamel said. “There’s no scientific basis to expect long-term negative consequences for yourself or for your pregnancy.”
In fact, Hamel says vaccination could mean higher protection for new mothers who are breastfeeding.
“This is the best part — they produce an antibody response that they can then share with their babies during breastfeeding. And it actually is a fantastic tool to help your baby have an immune response to this virus,” Hamel said.
Doctors say it is safe to get vaccinated in all three trimesters of pregnancy. And for mothers in the process of trying to become pregnant, there is no better time to get vaccinated than now.