Release Date: August 25, 2021
BUFFALO, N.Y. — More than 60% of adults in the U.S. have now been fully vaccinated. But among pregnant women, a vulnerable population, the rate of vaccination is estimated to be far lower, around 20% nationally. The rate is believed to be even lower in certain geographic areas, including in Western New York.
For that reason, the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo is leading an effort to promote vaccination among pregnant women in Western New York.
This morning, the department presented “The Ob/Gyn’s critical role in vaccinating pregnant women,” a continuing medical education lecture for health care providers.
Presenters are Gale Burstein, MD, Erie County Commissioner of Health and clinical professor of pediatrics in the Jacobs School, and Heather Link, MD, a clinical specialist in maternal-fetal medicine at the John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital and clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the Jacobs School.
“This lecture is designed to equip local providers with the information they need to better educate patients about the special risks COVID-19 poses to pregnant women and the significant benefits of getting vaccinated, not only for the mother but also for the baby,” said Sarah Berga, MD, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the Jacobs School, president of UBMD Obstetrics and Gynecology, and medical director of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Women’s Health Program Development for Kaleida Health.
“The health consequences of getting COVID-19 during pregnancy are terrifying and most people just don’t appreciate the risks,” said Berga. “Most sobering of all is the fact that pregnant women with COVID-19 are at higher risk of dying than are pregnant women who do not have COVID-19.”
Pregnant women with COVID-19 also are at significantly increased risk for needing intensive care unit admission and mechanical ventilation; they also have an increased risk of preterm (early) delivery.
The Aug. 25 lecture is part of a comprehensive effort being launched in Western New York to advise pregnant women about the need to get vaccinated, an effort that the organizers say is likely to gain momentum given the recent authorization of the Pfizer vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration.
Led by Berga, UB and UBMD Physicians’ Group are focused on boosting vaccination rates using a multipronged approach aimed at local providers as well as at pregnant women directly. The effort is supported by Oishei Children’s Hospital and Kaleida Health.
With young children heading back to school in-person in just a few weeks, Berga and her colleagues are especially keen on getting this information out to local providers.
Concerns about a ‘perfect storm’ of infections
“With children going back to school, we may well precipitate a ‘perfect storm’ of infections among pregnant women as children, even very young children, are now primary vectors for the spread of the delta variant of COVID-19,” she said. “Pregnant women are often mothers of small children, hence we face the ominous prospect of putting pregnant moms at increased risk of getting COVID-19.”
She noted that the CDC has added pregnancy to its list of medical conditions that can put an individual at increased risk of developing severe illness if they become infected with COVID-19.
In contrast, Berga said, the more than 139,000 pregnant women who were vaccinated against COVID-19 have experienced no increase in symptoms as compared to non-pregnant women, no increase in consequences such as preterm delivery, miscarriage, or decreased fertility rates, nor any decrease in success of infertility interventions.
“In addition, antibodies from the vaccine show up in umbilical cord blood and in the mother’s breast milk,” said Berga. “So, when you get vaccinated while pregnant you may very well be protecting your baby against COVID-19, an added bonus.”
For couples who are trying to get pregnant or are contemplating infertility treatments, vaccination is advised as well.
“Just like any other severe illness, infection with COVID-19 can also negatively impact fertility, something that couples should consider if they are trying to get pregnant,” said Berga. “For example, COVID-19 infections have been shown to impair both the concentration and motility of sperm.”
On the other hand, when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccines, Berga said the vaccine studies have shown no effect on fertility for either men or women.