COVID increases risk of maternal death - study

Pregnant people who get COVID at any stage are not only at a greater risk for maternal death, but they also are more likely to need care in an ICU.

 Pregnant woman (illustrative) (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Pregnant woman (illustrative)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

Contracting COVID-19 poses a health risk to anyone, but a new study suggests that the risk to pregnant people can be potentially deadly.

The study, published on Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal BMJ Global Health, determined that COVID infection at any point during pregnancy increases the risk of maternal death, severe maternal morbidities and neonatal morbidity. However, it does not appear to affect the rate of stillbirth or intrauterine growth restriction. 

“This study provides the most comprehensive evidence to date suggesting that COVID-19 is a threat during pregnancy,” Emily R. Smith, an assistant professor of global health at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health and lead author of the study, said. “Our findings underscore the importance of COVID-19 vaccination for all women of childbearing age.”

In an interview with the George Washington University media relations office, Smith explained that one of the study's strengths is that researchers could pull data from all over the world. Furthermore, they were able to sample information from people who were at varying stages of pregnancy and compare them.

A variety of health risks

Hospital bed in Hadassah Ein Kerem (credit: HADASSAH SPOKESPERSON)Hospital bed in Hadassah Ein Kerem (credit: HADASSAH SPOKESPERSON)

Smith also stated specifically that, according to her research, pregnant individuals who get COVID at any stage are not only at a greater risk for maternal death, but they also are more likely to require treatment at an intensive care unit (ICU) or to develop preeclampsia. Babies whose parent caught COVID while pregnant were also more likely to be born prematurely and had an increased risk of ending up in the NICU.

She stressed the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 before or even during pregnancy in order to reduce overall risk to both parent and child. 

“This study shows the risk of getting COVID-19 for both mother and baby,” Smith said. “All countries, including the United States, should make access to COVID vaccines an urgent priority in order to save lives and prevent health problems.”

Getting vaccinated while pregnant

Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 during pregnancy is not associated with a higher risk of preterm birth or stillbirth, according to a study published by the CHEO Research Institute and the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Medicine in mid-August.

The study, which was peer-reviewed and published in the BMJ, can help with evidence-based decision-making about the risks and benefits of getting vaccinated during pregnancy.

"Our study found no evidence of increased risk of preterm birth, very preterm birth, small-for-gestational-age birth, or stillbirth following COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy." said the lead author Dr. Deshayne Fell, Scientist at the CHEO Research Institute and Associate Professor in the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Medicine. "The results of this study provide further evidence for care providers and pregnant people about the safety of COVID-19 vaccinations during pregnancy."