COVID-19 in pregnancy linked to newborn deaths: study

TORONTO — A new study has found that pregnant women are more likely to experience severe outcomes from COVID-19 and more likely to lose their babies if they are not vaccinated.

Scottish researchers published their findings in the journal Nature on Thursday. They studied a database of 145,424 pregnancies in the country between December 2020 and October 2021.

Researchers found that 77.4 per cent of Scots who contracted COVID-19 while pregnant were not vaccinated. Unvaccinated pregnant women also made up 90.9 percent of COVID-19-related hospital admissions and 98 percent of ICU admissions.

Being infected with COVID-19 during pregnancy has also been associated with an increased risk of stillbirth and neonatal death. The study counted 11 stillbirths and eight neonatal deaths, all involving mothers who had not been vaccinated at the time of the COVID-19 diagnosis.

The researchers examined perinatal mortality, which refers to the rate of stillbirths and infant deaths less than a week after birth. During the study period, the perinatal mortality rate was 5.6 deaths per 1000 live births for the entire population. Among those who contracted COVID-19 at any time during pregnancy, the death rate was 8.0 per 1,000.

For those who contracted COVID-19 within 28 days of birth, the perinatal mortality rate was a staggering 22.6 per 1,000 births.

“Our data adds to the evidence that vaccination during pregnancy does not increase the risk of complications during pregnancy, but that COVID-19 does increase the risk of complications,” first author Dr. Sarah Stock said in a press release. “Covid-19 vaccination during pregnancy is critical to protecting women and children from preventable and life-threatening complications of COVID-19.”

COVID-19 has also been associated with higher rates of premature births. The premature birth rate for those without COVID-19 was 7.9 percent. For those who contracted COVID-19 at any time during pregnancy, the rate was 10.2 percent and for those who contracted COVID-19 within 28 days of giving birth, the rate was 16.6 percent.

The researchers say the findings underscore the importance of vaccination for pregnant women, given that they are at greater risk of serious outcomes from COVID-19.

“As omicron cases continue to rise, I strongly encourage all pregnant women to accept the offer of vaccination or booster as this will help protect them and their fetus,” study leader Aziz Sheikh said in a press release.

The researchers noted that the Covid-19 vaccine among pregnant women in Scotland was lower than in the general population, despite public health officials stressing that the vaccine is safe. In October 2021, the vaccination rate among Scottish women was 77.4% while only 32.3% of pregnant Scots were vaccinated.

Vaccine uptake among pregnant Canadians also lags behind the general population, but not to the same extent in Scotland. Ontario reported in early December that 85 percent of the population age 12 and older had been fully vaccinated. But among pregnant women in Ontario, the vaccination rate was 71 percent.

Both the Canadian National Advisory Committee on Immunization as well as the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada have recommended COVID-19 mRNA vaccines for pregnant women. Health Canada also says the vaccines are safe to receive during pregnancy, citing data from the United States of 35,000 pregnant women that found no safety concerns.

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