New research shows that a moderate to severe case of the coronavirus can complicate pregnancies and harm newborns.
A study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which was published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, has found that women infected with COVID-19 have a higher chance of experiencing pregnancy complications. The researchers specifically found women with “severe to moderate infection” were more likely to “require a cesarean delivery, deliver preterm, die during childbirth, or experience postpartum hemorrhaging or an infection other than COVID-19,” according to the NIH. They’re also more likely to “lose the pregnancy or have a baby die during the newborn period.”
Women with mild or asymptomatic cases didn’t experience these risks. In total, researchers examined the cases of 14,104 pregnant women in 17 U.S. hospitals, with 2,352 of the women testing positive for COVID. Of those with COVID, 80% tested positive in the third trimester, 17.6% in the second trimester, and 2.3% in the first trimester. Their babies were delivered between March 1 and Dec. 31, 2020. Most were unvaccinated as the vaccine was not yet made widely available. Five women in the study died after testing positive for COVID.
“The findings underscore the need for women of child-bearing age and pregnant individuals to be vaccinated and to take other precautions against becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2,” Diana Bianchi, MD, director of NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said in a news release. “This is the best way to protect pregnant women and their babies.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the vaccine for those who are “pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now, or might become pregnant in the future.” Many individuals have expressed concern that the shot will harm their developing fetuses or cause them to have a harder time getting pregnant, but the agency emphasizes that this is not the case. It indicates, “Getting vaccinated prevents severe illness, hospitalizations, and death. People who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine should get vaccinated as soon as possible and continue masking.”
Furthermore, the CDC warns, “Although the overall risks are low, people who are pregnant or recently pregnant are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 when compared to people who are not pregnant. People who have COVID-19 during pregnancy are also at increased risk for preterm birth (delivering the baby earlier than 37 weeks) and stillbirth and might be at increased risk for other pregnancy complications.” The agency defines “severe illness” as requiring hospitalization, intensive care and/or a ventilator.
In a separate NIH study, researchers found that being vaccinated did not reduce the chances of conception in approximately 2,000 couples. However, the same study found that COVID infection could be linked to short-term reduction in fertility in men, a condition that is not permanent.
“Our study shows for the first time that COVID-19 vaccination in either partner is unrelated to fertility among couples trying to conceive through intercourse,” Amelia Wesselink, MD, who led the research team at Boston University School of Public Health, said. “Time-to-pregnancy was very similar regardless of vaccination status.”