Report: Pregnant, vaccinated people more vulnerable to COVID

A new study finds breakthrough COVID cases more likely to occur in pregnant people who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

As we hit the midpoint in Black Maternal Health Week, there are new findings on the spread of COVID that might deeply affect how pregnant people safeguard themselves against the virus. As reported last week by the Washington Post, a new study conducted by Epic Research found that even when vaccinated, they are nearly twice as susceptible to contracting COVID as non-pregnant people.

pregnant Black woman holding belly
Photo: Getty Images

Pregnancy has long been on the CDC’s list of comorbidities—that is, medical conditions that potentially cause more vulnerability to the virus. But the medical records of 13.8 million U.S. patients indicated those who are pregnant and vaccinated are actually at greater risk of contracting COVID than individuals with cancer or organ transplants. Worse, they are also at greater risk of becoming seriously ill or dying as a result of the coronavirus.

Originally, those increased risks were believed to bolster the argument for vaccinations—and it should be noted that vaccines and boosters are still the best general prevention against the virus to date. But since COVID has also been linked to serious complications in pregnancy—including not only deaths but premature births and stillbirths—the findings could inform how pregnant people are vaccinated and treated, as well as what precautions can individually be taken to protect themselves.

More from the Washington Post:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been urging people to get coronavirus shots before or during pregnancy, seeking to dispel fear — widespread in some communities, without scientific basis — that those vaccinations could be harmful. As of March, nearly 70 percent of people who were pregnant had been vaccinated before or during their pregnancy, according to federal data, though disparities persist among racial and ethnic groups.

The new study goes beyond what has previously been understood, suggesting that even pregnant people who are fully vaccinated tend to have less protection from the virus than many other patients with significant medical problems.

The analysis found that the 110,000 pregnant individuals included in the study were 90 percent more likely to have been infected with coronavirus than the same number of people who were not pregnant. The next-highest risk — 80 percent greater — was among organ transplant recipients. The elevated risk among those two groups was higher than among patients with compromised immune systems, who had 60 percent greater odds of coronavirus infection.

Source: Washington Post

That said, the new findings aren’t discouraging vaccinations for those who are pregnant, simply encouraging awareness that “if you are fully vaccinated and become pregnant, you remain at higher risk of acquiring COVID,” as Dr. David R. Little, a researcher at Epic Research and a lead author of the study, told the Post.

Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, commended the study but also told the outlet: “People shouldn’t panic. You are not getting sick because of the vaccine. It argues that you probably need a little more of the vaccine.”

The results also further encourages continuation of longstanding precautions such as social distancing and mask-wearing, as well as early testing and treatment, when detected. While it might be argued the study’s findings are due to increased testing during prenatal care, it should also be noted that pregnant women of color have previously been found to contract COVID at a higher rate than their white counterparts, making this pertinent information when deciding how to safeguard their pregnancies.

“To me, the most important question the new study raises is, is there an increased rate of severe illness and death in pregnant patients after a certain period [post-vaccination],” Brenna L. Hughes, vice chair for obstetrics and quality at the Duke University School of Medicine Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, told the Washington Post.

As a second round of boosters now roll out, the findings could be crucial in determining future intervals of those vaccinations. Notably, the recent recommendations that people 50 and over and the severely immunocompromised receive additional shots didn’t spotlight pregnancy as one of those factors. The study’s findings that pregnancy renders individuals more vulnerable than even cancer could change those recommendations moving forward; in fact, there were some very surprising findings, in that respect.

The study found that several conditions pose only a slightly greater risk of vaccinated people experiencing infections compared with people without those conditions. They include kidney, liver and blood disorders. Patients with lung diseases had a slightly higher risk — 30 percent greater than patients without those diseases. On the other hand, cardiovascular diseases appear to create no added risk, and patients with cancers had slightly lower odds of breakthrough cases than those who are cancer-free.

Source: Washington Post

As for the specific implications and necessary precautions for pregnant individuals, there is clearly more research needed. “It’s definitely interesting,” said Denise Jamieson, chair of gynecology and obstetrics at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta and a prenatal specialist in infectious diseases. “This study asks this question but doesn’t answer it.”

Maiysha Kai is Lifestyle Editor of theGrio, covering all things Black and beautiful. Her work is informed by two decades’ experience in fashion and entertainment, a love of great books and aesthetics, and the indomitable brilliance of Black culture. She is also a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and editor of the YA anthology Body (Words of Change series).

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