The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

New reports confirm threats from the delta variant during pregnancy

A pregnant woman wearing a face mask and gloves holds her belly as she waits in line for groceries at St. Mary's Church in Waltham, Mass. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in August urged all pregnant women to get the coronavirus vaccine. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, file)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released two new reports Friday highlighting the dangers of covid-19 to pregnant people and their fetuses or babies, particularly since July, when the highly contagious delta variant took hold in the U.S.

One report examines covid — associated deaths during pregnancy in Mississippi between the beginning of March 2020 and early October 2021. During that 19-month period, 1,637 SARS-CoV-2 infections during pregnancy were reported, with 15 covid-19 — associated deaths. Of those, six occurred before delta took hold, accounting for five deaths per 1,000 infections. Once delta became predominant those numbers rose, resulting in nine total deaths, or 25 deaths per 1,000 infections.

Fourteen of the women had underlying health conditions, according to the report, and none had been fully vaccinated.

Young, pregnant and unvaccinated: Hospitals confront a wave of severe illness and death

“This highlights the importance of vaccination,” said Denise Jamieson, chair of gynecology and obstetrics at the Emory University School of Medicine.

Black and Hispanic women were disproportionately affected. Overall, about 50 percent of births in Mississippi were to Black and Hispanic women, but they accounted for 12 of the 15 covid-associated deaths.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Ruth Faden, a medical ethicist at Johns Hopkins and a leader of the PREVENT project, which advocates including pregnant women’s interests in the development of vaccines against emerging pathogens. “Once again, there is a disproportionate burden on people of color.”

Three of the women died during pregnancy, resulting in a miscarriage at 9 weeks and two stillbirths at 22 and 23 weeks. Twelve died following a live birth.

The second report focuses on stillbirths — a usually rare event that has been more strongly linked to covid-19 since delta became dominant.

The report, which examined 1,249,634 deliveries between March 2020 and September 2021, showed the risk of stillbirth increased about one and a half-fold for women with covid-19 before delta. Once delta took hold, it was closer to fourfold.

The reports’ authors emphasize the importance of preventive measures including vaccination, which the CDC recommends for pregnant women. Only about 30 percent of pregnant Americans are vaccinated, a rate far lower than the population as a whole.

Their hesitation appears to result at least in part from lack of clear guidance, particularly early in the pandemic when there was little data about pregnancy and vaccines.

“As evidence mounts about how serious a disease covid-19 is in pregnancy, the message need to be unequivocally to get vaccinated,” said Faden. “There is so much misinformation and confusion. We need clear statements.”

In September, as the delta variant swept across the country, causing a slew of deaths among pregnant patients, the CDC issued a new advisory urging them to get vaccinated in the face of lagging rates.

“Those at most risk are least likely to be vaccinated, which is a problem,” Jamieson said.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant. Here’s some guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

Variants: Instead of a single new Greek letter variant, a group of immune-evading omicron spinoffs are popping up all over the world. Any dominant variant will likely knock out monoclonal antibodies, targeted drugs that can be used as a treatment or to protect immunocompromised people.

Tripledemic: Hospitals are overwhelmed by a combination of respiratory illnesses, staffing shortages and nursing home closures. And experts believe the problem will deteriorate further in coming months. Here’s how to tell the difference between RSV, the flu and covid-19.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

For the latest news, sign up for our free newsletter.