Unlike the influenza A virus H1N1 2009 pandemic, pregnancy was not identified as a high-risk condition for SARS-CoV-2.
A recent study conducted at the University of Washington in collaboration with state hospitals and clinics has found that pregnant women who contract the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) are at a significantly increased risk of dying from the virus compared to those of similar ages. The study was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
"The mortality rate was shockingly high. We were very surprised by this,” Kristina M. Adams Waldorf, an author on the paper said. "We are gravely concerned that COVID-19-associated maternal deaths have been massively undercounted nationally and that the impact on pregnant patients, particularly with underlying conditions is greater than currently appreciated."
Investigators followed 240 pregnant women with a SARS-CoV-2 infection between March and June of 2020 who were admitted to 35 large hospitals and clinic systems throughout the state of Washington.
Findings from the study demonstrated that pregnant women who had an infection with COVID-19 were 3.5 times more likely to be hospitalized because of the virus. The investigators also discovered that mortality rates in pregnant women were 13 times higher than people of similar ages who had the disease. Of the 240 participants, 3 died throughout the course of the study. However, most were asymptomatic or only had a mild case and had healthy pregnancies.
"These results suggest that the exclusion of pregnant patients from COVID-19 vaccine trials was a mistake," Adams Waldorf said. "Here is an important group that is typically highly vulnerable to influenza infections and, yet they were excluded from COVID-19 vaccine trials. Pregnant patients should have been given the option to enroll in vaccine trials so that we would better understand vaccine risks and benefits to them."
The investigators behind the paper urge that the use of the data uncovered through the study is of utmost importance, as it can help guide public health officials and physicians in the fight to mitigate COVID-19 in vulnerable populations.
"The idea that pregnant patients were protected from COVID-19 is a myth," Adams Waldorf said. "Our data indicates that pregnant people did not avoid the pandemic as we hoped that they would, and communities of color bore the greatest burden."