The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it “strongly recommends” the COVID-19 vaccine before or during pregnancy, and it issued a call for “urgent action” to increase vaccination rates as COVID cases and deaths rise among mostly unvaccinated pregnant Americans.
The CDC says there have been more than 125,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in pregnant people, including more than 22,000 who were hospitalized, and 161 deaths. About 97% of pregnant people hospitalized with confirmed coronavirus infections have been unvaccinated, according to unpublished figures from the agency’s COVID-NET surveillance data.
The alert follows the agency’s move over the summer to bolster its recommendation that people who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant get vaccinated against COVID-19, citing a growing amount of evidence demonstrating the safety and effectiveness of the shots to protect vulnerable parents and their newborns.
But the CDC’s data suggests more than two-thirds of pregnant Americans still remain unvaccinated against COVID-19, with vaccination rates even lower among those who are Hispanic/Latino or Black. The CDC has struggled for months to increase rates of vaccination among pregnant Americans, even as the toll of COVID-19 in this group has climbed.
- Unvaccinated pregnant women face increased risks from COVID
COVID-related deaths in pregnant Americans climbed to 22 in August amid the Delta variant surge, the highest number reported in a single month since the beginning of the pandemic.
“We know that pregnant people with COVID-19 can become very sick. Some will die, and many will experience pregnancy and neonatal complications. We know that, because of COVID, some children will grow up without their mothers,” the CDC’s Dr. Dana Meaney-Delman said earlier this month, in a presentation to the agency’s outside panel of vaccine advisers.
Meaney-Delman said the CDC was planning to scale up its efforts to improve vaccination coverage among pregnant people, including by sharing personal stories of families, to dispel myths related to safety or fertility.
“We know that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. If you are pregnant, postpartum, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now, or might become pregnant in the future, please get vaccinated,” said Meaney-Delman. Tens of thousands of pregnant women have now gotten the shots safely, and research has found there is no increased risk of miscarriage.
Maeney-Delman told the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices that data on the shots also suggested there was no reason to think the safety risks posed by a booster shot were any different, but acknowledged it was “premature to come up with any specific recommendations for pregnant women” on boosters.
Additional studies launched by the National Institutes of Health and others are underway to gather and publish “robust, prospective clinical data” on use of the vaccines in pregnant people. But health experts say plenty of data already gathered from clinical trials and the real world — including in many Americans who have safely become pregnant and delivered children after getting vaccinated — demonstrate that there’s no basis for claims the vaccines are unsafe for expectant parents and newborns or pose a risk to those trying to become pregnant.
Over the summer, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said she personally intervened to seek the New England Journal of Medicine’s permission to accelerate reporting out results from a forthcoming study that had found no data suggesting an increased risk of pregnancy loss after vaccination.
“One of the things I’ve been wanting to do and working towards doing is communicating with editors of journals and saying, ‘I know you have an embargo date, I know you have a press date, but we need to get this out to the public,'” Walensky told a virtual event hosted by the National Public Health Information Coalition last month.
“And what’s been so inspiring is that the mission that we have is similar to the mission that they have, and they have uniformly said, ‘OK, get it out there.'”
CBS News reporter covering public health and the pandemic.