As the COVID-19 omicron variant surges across the United States, researchers are still studying how the delta variant is affecting people. New data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now shows an alarming risk of complications, and even death, the delta variant can cause in pregnant women.

According to the CDC, pregnant women and their babies are at an increased risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19, including death and stillbirth. The data also shows pregnant women infected with coronavirus were more than three times more likely to die compared to infected non-pregnant women of the same reproductive age.

Delta has also led to an increase in the risk of stillbirths among pregnant women with COVID-19.

“If you were looking at broad, broad numbers and if everything else is equal, then being pregnant triples your risk for being admitted to an ICU with COVID,“ said Dr. Ronald Thomas, division director of maternal fetal medicine with Allegheny Health Network (AHN). “If all counted as equal, being pregnant triples your risk for being intubated with COVID and gives you a 70% increased risk per death secondary to COVID infection and complications.“

Thomas said all of those risks are higher for those whose are 35 or older, Latinx, Black or have the Delta variant.

Delta poses biggest danger

According to the CDC data, pregnant women who specifically have the COVID-19 delta variant are at higher risk of complications.

“The three things that came up primarily for pregnancy were preterm birth, gestational hypertension or preeclampsia, and stillbirth,“ Thomas said. “In September, the CDC and the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine quoted a stillbirth risk of about 3.2% If you had COVID in pregnancy, and when delta came out, that stillbirth risk was four times higher.“

Current numbers suggest in most places, about 95% of the COVID-19 infections are now the omicron variant. Many experts suggest omicron has shown to be more easily transmitted, but to cause less severe disease than other variants.

Still, Thomas warned delta is not completely gone. He said getting COVID-19 during pregnancy can lead to the virus entering the placenta and creating an inflammatory response that can cause it to separate from the mother. That can lead to preterm birth, gestational hypertension and other complications.

“If you’re pregnant, the baby can do poorly because mom is doing poorly or because the placenta is doing poorly and a lot of times they’re connected,” Thomas said.

Vaccines recommended

More than 75% of all patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are not vaccinated.

Thomas said most vaccinated patients who are admitted have an underlying condition including pregnancy.

“Now the good news is if you’re vaccinated, even if you do get hospitalized, you’re less likely to die,“ he said.

“That probably is the biggest point we need to carry home is that it’s not necessarily whether you have the infection, it’s about living or dying.“

Thomas said for those planning on getting pregnant or are already pregnant, it is safe to get the vaccine.

“Absolutely,” he said. No question.”

But are expectant mothers and women of childbearing age getting vaccinated?

“They’re a little more willing, but we still are in a devastating situation in terms of pregnant women vaccinated in the United States is only about 35% plus or minus,“ Thomas said. “So it’s less than half of the general vaccination rate and it’s a shame because, quite honestly, they should be in the front of the line for vaccination because they are so much more susceptible to the infection.”

New recommendations advise pregnant women to get vaccinated between week 27 and week 31 of their pregnancy to pass on maximum antibodies to their baby. The Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine is also recommending the MRNA vaccines – Pfizer and Moderna – over the J&J vaccine because of questions over potential side effects.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about you’ve got to get vaccinated,“ Thomas said. “You’ve got to get vaccinated, and if nothing else, if you are vaccinated and you have a baby, that baby by way of the breast milk and by way of the placenta is going to be born with antibodies and some protection against COVID.

“You cannot vaccinate a baby,” he added. “So if you’re not vaccinated, that baby has zero protection against COVID. So if you want to protect your baby once it’s born, then the only way you can do it is for you the mom to be vaccinated before you have the baby. “

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