Severe COVID-19 in pregnancy linked to unvaccinated pregnant women, shows new study

on 27 January 2022

A study has shown that severe Coronavirus (COVID-19) illness in pregnancy is most likely to occur in unvaccinated pregnant women, as vaccine hesitancy among this group continues.

The research, published in the The Lancet Regional Health Europe, cites that pregnant women are 2-3 times more likely to be admitted to intensive care, with a 50% increase in iatrogenic preterm birth. In the UK, 98% of pregnant women admitted to critical care were unvaccinated.

In Norway and the UK, pregnant and postpartum women are now identified as an ‘at risk’ priority group for COVID-19 vaccination. Belgium and Denmark has had this group as a priority for vaccination for longer.

However, Italy, Netherlands and Finland currently do not have pregnant and postpartum women as a priority for COVID-19 vaccinations.

Researchers state that there is still considerable vaccine hesitancy amongst pregnant women, identifying three factors that influences their decision: confidence in the efficiency of the vaccines, trust in healthcare professionals, and certainty of the systems to assess vaccine safety.

The study focusses on the COVID-19 Delta variant. Data on the Omicron variant and its impact on pregnant women has yet to be determined.

Pregnant women are receiving conflicting information, or misinformation, mainly around the safety of the vaccine. Most of this misinformation is coming from social media.

Uptake of the vaccine by pregnant women across Europe varies between countries, for example Norway has seen an uptake of 80%, while the UK is reporting 22%. Not all countries could provide data on COVID-19 vaccination rates among pregnant women.

In its conclusion, the research paper says: “Our findings emphasize the message to unvaccinated pregnant women, their partners, health professionals caring for pregnant women, decision makers and politicians that vaccination protects against severe disease. As the world is entering a new phase of the COVID-pandemic, with the Delta-variant rapidly being overtaken by the Omicron-variant, booster vaccinations are increasingly important to provide protection against severe COVID-19, especially in vulnerable groups such as pregnant and postpartum women or women who want to become pregnant.”

Commenting on the research, Director for Professional Midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) Mary Ross-Davie said: “This lays out starkly the dangers pregnant women can face from this virus, particularly if they are unvaccinated. If you become unwell with COVID in pregnancy you are more likely to have a stillbirth, a preterm birth and more interventions at birth.  Many have been put off having the vaccine by the waves of misinformation circulating about it. We have got to re-double our efforts to cut through this and keep sharing the growing body of evidence that this vaccine is safe for women and their babies, and that they can have it at any point in their pregnancy.”

The research ‘Severe COVID-19 in pregnancy is almost exclusively limited to unvaccinated women – time for policies to change’ can be found here.