Pregnant women are getting vaccinated against the coronavirus at a lower rate than their nonpregnant peers, and the uptake is particularly low among those 18 to 24 as well as Black and Hispanic women.
A report published Tuesday suggests that improved outreach to health care providers and pregnant women could boost vaccine confidence and coverage, closing the vaccine gap, health officials say.
Published by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the study draws on data from nearly 136,000 pregnant women treated at eight health systems across the country including Bloomington-based HealthPartners. It found that between December and May, COVID-19 vaccination completion was 11.1% in pregnant women compared with 24.9% in nonpregnant women 18 to 49.
"We have work to do as far as informing pregnant persons about the benefits of receiving COVID vaccine in addition to highlighting their increased risk for complications, severe COVID infection, if they become symptomatic," said Dr. Malini DeSilva, a researcher at HealthPartners Institute who was one of the study authors. In the paper, researchers wrote: "Although low, COVID-19 vaccination coverage among pregnant women is expected to increase as vaccine availability and access improve, and as more safety data become available."
The Minnesota Department of Health on Tuesday reported just 95 new COVID-19 cases, the lowest one-day tally across the state since the early days of the pandemic back in April 2020. In the latest data release, Minnesota reported one new death linked to COVID-19.
Pregnant women weren't studied in clinical trials showing the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines, so some have been reluctant to get immunized. In general, pregnant women have lower uptake rates for vaccines than nonpregnant women.
While those factors might explain the lower immunization rate, it's also true that a growing number of studies suggest the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective for pregnant women, DeSilva said. She also noted that pregnant women have a greater chance of severe illness and death from COVID-19 than nonpregnant women of reproductive age, though doctors say it's difficult to calculate the extra risk..
COVID-19 increases the risk for preterm birth and other adverse pregnancy outcomes. There's emerging evidence that COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy might ultimately help newborns because antibodies are transferred through the placenta and breast milk.
"COVID-19 vaccines help protect those who are pregnant and they likely provide at least some protection to their babies, too," DeSilva said in a statement. "It's important that health providers who care for patients who are pregnant have conversations about safety and protection, and hopefully we can increase vaccination rates."
The new report shows that 17% of Asian women who are pregnant and 14% of white women who are pregnant were completely vaccinated, compared with just 7.7% of Hispanic women who are pregnant and 3.7% of Black women who are pregnant.
Vaccination coverage in pregnant women was 15.9% for those 35 to 49 and 10.9% among those 25 to 34. In pregnant women 18 to 24, the vaccine coverage rate was just 3.1%.
While the rate for very young women, in particular, might look low, DeSilva noted that broad access to vaccines was available for just a limited portion of the study period. As access got easier, more pregnant women got vaccinated, researchers found, which might reflect growing comfort as safety data emerges.
"Analyses of emerging data regarding safety of COVID-19 vaccines … have detected no safety signals for pregnant women," researchers wrote in the study. "In early data from three of CDC's vaccine safety monitoring systems, no safety concerns were identified for vaccinated pregnant women or their infants."
The eight health systems that contributed data for the study are part of the CDC collaborative Vaccine Safety Datalink. Earlier this year, HealthPartners Institute received $2 million from the federal government to monitor the safety of new COVID-19 vaccines for pregnant women and their babies.
Christopher Snowbeck • 612-673-4744