In an urgent plea, federal health officials are asking that any American who is pregnant, planning to become pregnant or currently breastfeeding get vaccinated against the coronavirus as soon as possible.
Covid-19 poses a severe risk during pregnancy, when a person’s immune system is tamped down, and raises the risk of stillbirth or another poor outcome, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Twenty-two pregnant people in the United States died of Covid in August, the highest number in a single month since the pandemic started.
About 125,000 pregnant people have tested positive for the virus; 22,000 have been hospitalized, and 161 have died. Hospital data indicates that 97 percent of those who were infected with the virus when they were hospitalized — for illness, or for labor and delivery — were not vaccinated.
Vaccination rates among pregnant people are lower than among the general population. Fewer than one-third were vaccinated before or during their pregnancy, the agency said.
The rates vary widely by race and ethnicity, with the highest — nearly 50 percent — among pregnant Asian American people, and the lowest rates among pregnant Black people, at 15 percent.
Pregnancy is on the C.D.C.’s list of health conditions that increase the risk of severe Covid. Though the absolute risk of severe disease is low, pregnant patients who are symptomatic are more than twice as likely as other symptomatic patients to require admission to intensive care or interventions like mechanical ventilation, and may be more likely to die.
Some data also suggest that pregnant people with Covid-19 are more likely to experience conditions that complicate pregnancy — such as a kind of high blood pressure called pre-eclampsia — compared with pregnant people who don’t have Covid. Pregnant people with the disease are also at increased risk for poor birth outcomes, like preterm birth.
Clinical trials have a long history of excluding pregnant people from participation, and pregnant people were not included in the coronavirus vaccine trials. As a result, data on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines is limited in this group.
Studies conducted since the vaccines were authorized, however, have shown that the vaccines do not increase the risk of a miscarriage. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines produced robust immune responses in pregnant people and did not damage the placenta, researchers have found.
“Pregnancy can be both a special time and also a stressful time, and pregnancy during a pandemic is an added concern for family,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C.’s director.
She encouraged pregnant people and those who may become pregnant “to talk with their health care provider about the protective benefits of the Covid-19 vaccine to keep their babies and themselves safe.”