A study of more than 2,000 pregnant women from dozens of hospitals around the world has found that those with COVID-19 saw a significantly higher risk of death and of complications for themselves or their newborns.
The study, published Thursday in JAMA Pediatrics, underscores that pregnancy is a major risk factor for complications involving COVID-19 — one that should be considered alongside the likes of obesity and asthma — and could help persuade more women to line up for vaccinations.
The new report adds to a growing body of evidence “that will hopefully tip the scales towards more people getting vaccinated,” said Dr. Ilina Pluym, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at UCLA who was not involved in the research.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put an additional burden on pregnant women: In addition to worrying about how they’d be affected by a coronavirus infection, they’re also anxious about the health of their babies.
This was particularly true at the beginning of the pandemic, when the uncertain extent of the risks “was affecting pregnant individuals’ mental health,” the study authors wrote. That’s in large part because there wasn’t much research available at the time comparing the outcomes for pregnant women with and without COVID-19.
Dr. Aris Papageorghiou, a fetal medicine specialist at Oxford University, and his colleagues were able to start tracking pregnant COVID-19 patients early in the pandemic by tapping into a network of hospitals involved in a large study tracking the health and development of normal pregnancies.
For eight months starting March 2, they enrolled women age 18 or older at any stage of pregnancy or delivery who had been diagnosed with COVID-19. Every time they enrolled a new COVID-19 patient, they immediately enrolled two pregnant women without symptoms and who required the same level of care. If that wasn’t possible, they enrolled pregnant women who were not diagnosed with COVID-19 and delivered immediately after the COVID-19 patient did.
They ultimately enrolled 706 pregnant COVID-19 patients and 1424 pregnant women without the disease. The women were treated in 43 hospitals across 18 countries — Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, France, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Pakistan, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. Most of the women were diagnosed during their third trimester of pregnancy.
Compared with pregnant women who did not have COVID-19, those who did were 76% more likely to develop preeclampsia or eclampsia, the researchers found. They were also more than three times as likely to develop a severe infection that required treatment with antibiotics and five times as likely to be admitted to a hospital’s intensive care unit.
Strikingly, the risk of death was more than 22 times higher for the women with COVID-19.