A new study examining pregnant people who contracted coronavirus during their pregnancies concludes that vaccination against the virus deters against future respiratory distress in newborns.
The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) study, which was published on Thursday, found that the babies of mothers who were unvaccinated and got COVID-19 during their pregnancy faced three times the risk of developing respiratory distress compared to babies of mothers who weren’t exposed to the virus during pregnancy. The risk was also lower for babies of mothers who had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine but still contracted the infection at some point during their pregnancy.
“The prevalence of severe or critical COVID-19 was higher among unvaccinated mothers. The odds of neonatal [respiratory distress] were significantly reduced among term infants if mothers received at least one mRNA COVID-19 vaccine prior to infection,” the study said.
The study examined more than 200 mothers in the Los Angeles area who contracted COVID-19 while pregnant.
“We found unusually high rates of respiratory distress shortly after birth in the full-term babies born to mothers who had COVID-19 during pregnancy,” said Karin Nielsen, UCLA pediatric infectious diseases professor and co-author of the study. The findings indicated that “vaccination protects against this complication,” Nielsen added.
Infants with respiratory distress in the study ended up hospitalized for around 24 days on average, the study noted. The study also found that more cases of respiratory distress than usual occurred for children of unvaccinated pregnant mothers “at later gestational ages than anticipated, when neonates should presumably have more mature lung anatomy.”
Despite some limitations to the study, the authors concluded that “pregnant persons should be encouraged to receive mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, regardless of history of prior COVID-19 infection.”
The study adds to previous research on pregnant individuals and COVID-19. A study published early in 2023, for example, found that pregnant people who get infected with COVID-19 are more likely to be admitted to the ICU or even die than those who are uninfected, but that vaccination reduced those risks. A study from the fall of 2021 also concluded that “vaccination before or during pregnancy…is critical to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on stillbirths“
Such studies are critical because widespread misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccinations has influenced pregnant people to make decisions that are actually worse for their health, researchers say.
A survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) published in 2022 found that a significant portion of pregnant people were misguided in their beliefs about COVID-19 vaccinations. Around a quarter (24 percent) of pregnant people or individuals trying to get pregnant wrongly believed they shouldn’t get vaccinated against the virus, that poll found, while another 37 percent said they had heard that errant suggestion and were unclear whether or not it was true.
Current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines recommend that everyone over the age of 6 months old be vaccinated for COVID-19. “This includes people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now, or those who might become pregnant in the future,” the CDC website says.
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