Maternity Mortality Increase During COVID-19 Affirms Value of Vaccination During Pregnancy

A study from Mexico shows that maternal mortality increased nearly 60 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic, and reaffirms the importance of both COVID-19 and influenza vaccinations for pregnant women.

A new study reported there were more than 1000 maternal deaths in Mexico from February 2020 to February 2021. This trend contrasted with a decrease in both the previous years (2018 and 2019).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), maternal mortality is defined as a death of a woman during pregnancy, at delivery, or within 1 year after delivery. The CDC notes that about 700 women in the US die annually as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications.

The study’s investigators found COVID-19 was the leading cause of maternal death, with 22.93% being from confirmed cases, and 4.5% being unconfirmed cases. And they noted there was also an increase in deaths related to hemorrhage and hypertension during the study period.

The study was published in BMC Public Health.

The investigators used public health data from Mexico’s General Office of Health Information to estimate changes in the maternal mortality ratio due to COVID-19 infections and changes in care resulting from efforts to control the pandemic. During the study period, 1056 maternal deaths took place, with 835 reported between weeks 10 and 53, and 221 reported in the first 10 weeks of 2021.

“The results highlight the need for timely, organized, and efficient maternal and obstetric healthcare at all times, but particularly during a pandemic,” the investigators wrote. “Providing pregnant women access to the necessary healthcare resources in the community and clinical settings must be considered a priority.”

It is important to note the study period took place before the availability of COVID-19 vaccines in Mexico. Vaccinations did not begin to ramp up in that country until later in 2021.

With at least a quarter of the deaths in the study related to COVID-19, the COVID-19 vaccine will likely play a much bigger public health role going forward in preventing maternal mortality.

And although the COVID-19 vaccinations remain paramount in public health, providers should be counseling their patients on the value of the influenza vaccine as well. And pregnant women need to be thinking about the value behind the vaccines not only for their health, but the health of their babies.

Contagion spoke with William Schaffner, MD, medical director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), professor of Preventive Medicine in the Department of Health Policy, and professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, about the importance of pregnant women getting vaccinated for both COVID-19 and influenza.