A study suggests that COVID-19 is a threat during pregnancy


Pregnant women infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 face a 7-fold increased risk of death and a significantly increased risk of being admitted to an intensive care unit or developing pneumonia, according to research published today in BMJ Global Health. The study also notes that COVID-19 during pregnancy also increases the risk that the baby will need intensive care.

This study provides the most comprehensive evidence to date that COVID-19 is a threat during pregnancy. Our findings underscore the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine for all women of childbearing age.”

Emily R. Smith, associate professor of global health at the Milken Institute of the George Washington University School of Public Health and lead author of the study

Despite increased knowledge of the risks of COVID-19 during pregnancy, many women of childbearing age in the United States and other countries remain unvaccinated. In some cases, women hesitate or refuse to get the vaccine or booster because they don’t believe COVID-19 poses risks to young women or they feel unsure about the safety of the vaccine during pregnancy. Even some doctors may be reluctant to give the vaccine to a pregnant woman, Smith says, even though it’s recommended.

Smith and her colleagues collected individual patient data from 12 studies conducted in 12 countries, including the United States, and included more than 13,000 pregnant women.

Researchers found that compared to uninfected pregnant women, pregnant women with COVID-19 infection were in:

  • seven times the risk of dying during pregnancy or childbirth;
  • More than three times the risk of admission to the intensive care unit. People with COVID-19 who need intensive care unit care are also at a higher risk of dying.
  • The risk of needing ventilator treatment increases by about 15 times. COVID-19 can affect the ability to breathe and in severe cases patients need mechanical ventilation in order to survive.
  • The risk of developing pneumonia, a potentially life-threatening complication of COVID-19, increases by about 23 times.
  • The risk of developing thromboembolic disease, or blood clots that can cause pain, swelling, or other life-threatening complications, increases by more than 5 times.

Newborns born to women with COVID-19 were more likely to be admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit after delivery. They were also more likely to be born prematurely. Smith said premature babies are at increased risk of lifelong health problems including delays in early childhood cognitive development.

Despite the very serious health risks, more than 80 countries still do not recommend that all pregnant and breastfeeding women get a COVID vaccine, notes Smith. While it was difficult to synthesize evidence in the past, this meta-analysis provides public health officials and the public with clear, consistent, and compelling results, she adds.

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


Journal reference:

Smith, ER, et al. (2023) Adverse maternal, fetal, and neonatal outcomes among pregnant women with SARS-CoV-2 infection: a meta-analysis of individual participant data. BMJ Global Health. doi.org/10.1136/bmjgh-2022-009495.


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