Spike in unvaccinated pregnant women hospitalized with COVID-19

In the last few weeks, hospitals in Seattle and across the country have seen a spike in unvaccinated pregnant women severely ill with COVID-19. Many are so sick they are in the intensive care unit. Doctors said the delta variant is changing outcomes. Now pregnant women who are young, healthy, and even took prenatal vitamins are intubated in the ICU. One thing they have in common is they are unvaccinated.

Dr. Elizabeth Meade practices at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle.

“Our experience in the hospital has changed wildly over the last few weeks with delta variant in terms of the number of pregnant women we’re seeing, the severity of their illness, and the outcomes for them and their babies,” said Meade. “Our health care system has cared for a number of women over the last weeks who are pregnant, who are very sick, in the ICU on ventilators. Some women have lost their babies. Some women have had to deliver very early. Some women have died. And that’s happening all over the country.”

UW Medicine sees similar outcomes. Dr. Alisa Kachikis is an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington. She works in maternal-fetal medicine at UW Medical Center, where she is treating pregnant women sick with COVID-19.

“We stand in the room when moms are being intubated, just in case their baby crashes, and we need to do an emergency C-section,” said Kachikis. “We’ve delivered babies when the mom is asleep. She doesn’t even know she’s having her baby. In a best-case scenario, a few days after the delivery, she’ll maybe know she had her baby. It’s so sad. These are supposed to be really joyous events.”

Vaccination rates for pregnant women are lagging. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 75.7% of adults in the U.S. have at least one dose. But when it comes to those who are pregnant, that number is only 24.8%.

“The best thing you can do to protect yourself and to protect your baby is to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” said Meade.

Both doctors said new research further confirms the vaccine is safe and even benefits the baby, transferring COVID-19 antibodies from the mother to the child.

“There also have been some concerns about fertility questions with the COVID-19 vaccine. There are studies looking at miscarriage rates and really have found no cause for concern with the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Kachikis.

These local doctors who have dedicated their lives to caring for women and babies said misinformation is proving deadly.

“I think there is so much misinformation online, and it can be very, very dangerous. That’s the frustrating part — is we know that people are getting saddled with information that is frankly untrue and that is dangerous for them,” said Meade.

They are urging pregnant women to get vaccinated as soon as possible.