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Doctors Report “Alarming” Number Of Hospitalizations Among Pregnant People

According to the CDC, just 23% of pregnant people are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 as of July 31.

by Morgan Brinlee

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, doctors across the United States have reported seeing a worrisome rise in the number of pregnant people hospitalized with severe cases of Covid-19. While data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has shown the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases among those who are pregnant has not yet returned to peak pandemic levels, health experts have warned low vaccination rates among pregnant people and the surging Delta variant could cause hospitalizations to continue to climb.

“Clinicians have seen the number of pregnant people infected with Covid-19 rise in the past several weeks,” the CDC said in a statement released earlier this month. “The increased circulation of the highly contagious Delta variant, the low vaccine uptake among pregnant people, and the increased risk of severe illness and pregnancy complications related to COVID-19 infection among pregnant people make vaccination for this population more urgent than ever.”

In Alabama, doctors at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) reported at least 39 unvaccinated pregnant people had been hospitalized in the first 20 days of August alone. In North Carolina, a physician at Duke University Medical Center's Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine in Durham told NBC News their team was treating more Covid-19 positive pregnant patients than ever before. A doctor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, also told the news outlet their Intensive Care Unit (ICU) was currently treating more than 12 pregnant people who’d tested positive for the virus — a significant increase from the typical one or two pregnant patients it saw earlier in the pandemic.

“Truly, we’ve never had this number of pregnant women in my ICU,” Dr. Steve Stigler, director of UAB Hospital’s Medical Intensive Care Unit, said in a statement released by the university. “It is alarming. In a typical month, we may have one or two pregnant women who require our care in a medical intensive care unit; but those are very rare circumstances.”

But it isn’t just Southern states that are seeing more and more pregnant Covid-19 patients require hospitalization. In California, a doctor at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles told the Seattle Times that as Covid-19 cases have risen in recent weeks, so too have the number of pregnant Covid patients in their ICU. The director of obstetrics for the South-Central Illinois Perinatal Center at HSHS St. John’s Children’s Hospital in Springfield, Illinois, recently told Fox Illinois the hospital had seen more pregnant Covid-19 patients admitted in the last two months than they had seen during the last 15 months.

“Our ICU beds are very limited,” director of obstetrics Dr. Robert Abrams told Fox Illinois. “We've had to send a pregnant woman to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We've had to send one to St. Louis because quite frankly we are just running out of capabilities to care for these sick pregnant women.”

Recent studies have found Covid-19 can place pregnant people at an increased risk of serious illness and death. In a study published earlier this month, researchers from the University of California, Irvine found pregnant people with Covid-19 had significantly higher rates of ICU admission, respiratory intubation and mechanical ventilation, and in-hospital mortality compared to pregnant people without the virus. Pregnant people with Covid-19 were also found to be more likely to have a preterm birth, which can further increase the child’s risk of medical complications, according to the MayoClinic.

According to the CDC, just 23% of pregnant people were fully vaccinated against Covid-19 as of July 31. Amid rising hospitalization rates, the national public health agency has urged anyone who is pregnant, nursing, or thinking about becoming pregnant in the near future to get vaccinated.

“The vaccines are safe and effective,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in the agency’s August 11 statement. “And it has never been more urgent to increase vaccinations as we face the highly transmissible Delta variant and see severe outcomes from COVID-19 among unvaccinated pregnant people.”

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here.