Unvaccinated women who contract Covid-19 are not only at greater risk of developing a severe symptoms, they are also more likely to lose their babies than vaccinated women, new research from Scotland shows.
The study was published in the ‘Nature’ scientific journal on Thursday 13 January, and is based on data of 130,875 women who were pregnant or became pregnant after 1 March 2020 through the end of October 2021, across all of Scotland.
The results show that the risk of losing a baby through stillbirth or during the first month of life was highest among women who delivered within four weeks of a Covid-19 infection. Among unvaccinated women, the researchers recorded 22.6 instances where the baby died per 1,000 births – four times higher than the Scottish average rate of 5.6 deaths per 1,000 births.
“Quite strikingly, no baby deaths occurred in women who had SARS-CoV-2 and were vaccinated,” Dr. Sarah Stock, the paper’s first author and maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the University of Edinburgh Usher Institute, told the New York Times.
Additionally, the rates of preterm births (a birth that occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy) among women diagnosed with Covid-19 also went up: more than 16% of women gave birth too early, compared with 8% of other women.
The chances of being hospitalised were also four times higher for pregnant women who were unvaccinated than for those who were vaccinated.
“The key finding we’d love to get across is that really the best way to protect mother and baby is vaccination at the earliest opportunity, and that can be done at any stage of pregnancy,” said Aziz Sheikh, a population health researcher at the University of Edinburgh and another of the paper’s authors.
Similar findings in Belgium and the Netherlands
In November, Dutch researchers presented similar findings: at least 13 babies whose mother was infected had died before they were delivered in the area around Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. Remarkably, all 13 mothers were not vaccinated and only showed mild symptoms. Some had even been unaware that they were infected.
“In all 13 mothers, the placenta was damaged by the coronavirus,” gynaecologist and researcher Sam Schoenmakers told the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant back then. “That is an incredibly high number. There is no other infectious disease that causes so many deaths in unborn babies in such a short period of time in our region.”
In Belgium, too, babies have been stillborn because their mother was infected with the coronavirus, said gynaecologist Isabelle Dehaene of the University Hospital in Ghent. “When we analyse the placentas, we see specific abnormalities. The virus really destroys part of the placenta. If it is a significant area, in rare cases it can lead to a stillbirth,” she told VRT.
Pregnant can get vaccinated with priority in Belgium, and the results of the Dutch study have led gynaecologists to once again urge women to get vaccinated as soon as possible. “The vast majority of pregnant women who end up in intensive care in this wave are not vaccinated,” said Dehaene.
“Women already have a smaller lung volume during pregnancy, so they also run a higher risk of needing invasive ventilation,” she added. “If we are unable to ventilate the mother properly, we may have to perform an early caesarean. That has happened on several occasions.”
There are no official figures on how many pregnant women end up in intensive care or die after a coronavirus infection in Belgium. The figures for the number of premature and stillbirths after infection are still being analysed.