- Vaccination rates among pregnant people remain low, with just 18% receiving a dose, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- According to a recent study, women who give birth while having COVID-19 have had “significantly higher rates” of intensive care admissions, intubation, ventilation and death.
- In August alone, 21 pregnant people died from COVID-19, according to the CDC.
As new data shows overall racial disparities in COVID-19 vaccinations are improving, federal figures show pregnant blacks are the least vaccinated compared to those expected in other races.
In general, vaccination rates among pregnant women have been low, with only 18% receiving a dose, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But the rate is even lower among those who are black: only 15% are fully vaccinated and only 13% have received at least one dose, according to the CDC.
Black women experience disproportionate rates of maternal complications and mortality, and pregnant women are at risk of serious illness from COVID-19, making them particularly vulnerable without vaccination.
According to a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, women who give birth while having COVID-19 have had “significantly higher rates” of intensive care admissions, intubation, ventilation and death. In August alone, 21 pregnant people died from COVID-19, according to the CDC.
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During a COVID-19 briefing at the White House on Tuesday, CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky noted the statistics and explained the safety of a vaccine for pregnant women.
In other racial groups, reported vaccination rates among pregnant people are more promising: about a quarter of Hispanics or Latinos have received a vaccine, a third of whites and 45% of Asians – the highest of any group racial.
Native, Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and “other” races made up 30% of pregnant women vaccinated.
Scientists have said that the vaccines can be taken safely at any time during pregnancy or while breastfeeding for mother and baby.
In response to a question from a reporter during the briefing, Walensky highlighted the vulnerabilities of pregnant people and their babies, as well as the importance and safety of getting vaccinated during pregnancy.
“We are now fortunate to have extraordinary safety data with all of these vaccines. We know that pregnant women are at increased risk for serious illness, hospitalization and ventilation. They are also at increased risk of adverse events for their babies, ”she said.
The director said studies have also shown that the vaccine antibodies could potentially protect the baby as well.
She pointed to the “extraordinarily” vaccination rates among pregnant women in all areas, and the extremely low rate among those who are black.
“This puts them at serious risk of serious illness from COVID-19,” she said. “We absolutely have the data that demonstrates the immense benefit of the vaccine and really very few safety concerns at all.”
“Pregnancy is a precious moment”
Dr Pam Oliver, a doctor of obstetrics and gynecology and executive vice president of Novant Health in North Carolina, said the low rate is sounding the alarm to build better relationships between healthcare providers and black women.
“As an OB-GYN black woman committed to reducing disparities, equitable access to care, there is a bit of sadness and worry,” she said. “What that says is that we have an important hill to climb both in gaining the confidence of black women in general but especially during pregnancy so that we can really protect them with the vaccine.”
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Oliver said many women come across misinformation about the vaccine and pregnancy on social media, raising doubts. To fight misinformation, she said clinicians need to patiently answer women’s questions, validate their emotions, and then reassure them with science.
“Pregnancy is a precious time. It is also a time when a lot of women are afraid,” she said. “It’s natural to have questions … so let’s talk about what we know, put it in perspective.”
Oliver also said exploring other reasons, such as black women delaying prenatal care, is another important step to getting more immunized.
Massachusetts General Hospital obstetrician and gynecologist and professor at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Andrea Edlow, said the low rate is another complicated manifestation of systemic racism. She also asked if people have any barriers to getting to antenatal visits.
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But even if they make it to an antenatal appointment, logistical issues like vaccine storage could make it difficult for clinicians to administer the vaccine on-site without wasting what’s left in the vial.
Edlow also cited the lack of confidence in maternal health care that could be, in part, due to historic gynecological abuse of black women, she said, as well as high rates of black maternal mortality.
“There are a lot of reasons why black women in this country have a complicated relationship with childbirth and have some fear of prenatal care, potentially going to the hospital,” she said. “It’s definitely something people are talking about.”
Edlow, whose lab studies maternal obesity and fetal development, said it is essential to send trusted community health workers to their own communities to allay fears and answer questions “to get caught up.”
“We have to do this work with communities of color,” she said. “We have to meet people where they are.”
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During the White House briefing, officials cited a Kaiser Family Foundation report released on Tuesday that showed a reduction in vaccination disparities between whites and blacks and Hispanics.
Among adults surveyed, the foundation said 73% of Hispanics, 70% of blacks and 71% of whites reported receiving at least one dose.
The director of the administration’s COVID-19 health equity working group, Dr Marcella Nunez-Smith, referred to these rates as well as similar percentages in a survey by the Pew Research Center and of the CDC’s National Immunization Survey.
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“It is the result of intentional work to overcome these obstacles, to address these concerns,” Nunez-Smith said. “We have made important strides in increasing immunization rates and reducing immunization inequalities. These numbers represent more than the passing of time. They tell the story of a whole-of-society effort to bring us to where we are today. “
After noting the progress, “We know there is still work to be done,” she said.
“We of course continue to see new hospitalizations and deaths from COVID that we can avoid,” she said. “We just need to have the strength and commitment to each other to… keep fighting and get the job done.”
Blacks and Hispanics also account for a larger share of recent vaccinations in the past two weeks compared to their share of the population. According to the Kaiser Foundation’s analysis, of the vaccines given in the past two weeks, 23% went to Hispanics and 14% to blacks.
“These recent patterns suggest a narrowing of the racial differences in vaccinations nationwide, especially for Hispanics and blacks, who account for a larger share of recent vaccinations compared to their share of the total population,” the to analyse.
Contact Nada Hassanein at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @nhassanein_.