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Experts hope a new study will encourage pregnant people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Getty Images
  • Researchers say pregnant people who develop COVID-19 have a higher risk of birth complications such as preeclampsia and gestational hypertension.
  • Experts note that vaccine hesitancy is high among pregnant people due to concerns over the health effects of the vaccine on unborn children.
  • They say they hope this new study will encourage pregnant people to get vaccinated.

A study in France confirms what obstetricians in the United States and other countries have suspected since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers concluded that pregnant people who develop COVID-19 are more likely to have complications with pregnancy and birth than those who do not.

Experts hope the study persuades people who are pregnant or working toward pregnancy to do what they’ve been suggesting all along: Get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“It’s great to have data to back up what we know,” Dr. Vonne Jones, a physician at Total Women’s Care in Houston, told Healthline.

“It’s been shown in what we’ve seen overseas in Israel and on the East Coast (both epicenters early in the pandemic),” she said. “Pregnant women who contract COVID-19 are three times as likely to be hospitalized as those who don’t.”

The study team from Universite de Paris analyzed data for hospitalizations for birth after 22 weeks gestation in France between January and June 2020.

Of 244,465 births in hospitals across France, 874 mothers had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

The pregnant women with COVID-19 had a higher frequency of admission to the intensive care unit as well as higher rates of preeclampsia and eclampsia, gestational hypertension, hemorrhage either before or after birth, premature spontaneous or induced birth, cesarean delivery, and even death than those who did not develop the disease, researchers reported.

“This is not surprising at all,” Dr. Marco Mouanness, a physician at the Rejuvenating Fertility Center in New York, told Healthline.

Pregnant women who developed COVID-19 were also at a higher risk of needing a ventilator, the study found.

This could be in part be because while pregnant, a woman has less residual lung volume. As the baby grows, it puts pressure on the diaphragm, which pushes against the lungs, cutting down on that volume.

Because COVID-19 impacts the lungs and breathing, this can be potentially dangerous, experts say.

Mouanness, like many OB/GYNs, says he has been fighting misinformation and trying to help patients better understand pregnancy, COVID-19, and vaccines.

He says that there was little clarity on the subject at the beginning of the pandemic and some medical misunderstanding of the novel coronavirus.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, most of the research was pointing (toward the idea that) COVID-19 does not increase adverse pregnancy outcomes,” Mouanness said.

But as time went on and more data was collected and reviewed, he said, “This was overturned by new information that indicates that pregnant women are at higher risk if they contract COVID-19.”

However, the seeds of worry have been planted, and OB/GYNs found themselves – and still find themselves – needing to educate and assure women about the vaccine and pregnancy.

That was a driving motivation to produce the large-scale French study, Dr. Sylvie Epelboin, a study author and physician specializing in reproductive health, told Healthline.

“All physicians have to battle now with so much fake news,” she said.

This large cohort study, she hopes, will arm them with more data.

And while researchers did not look at how vaccinated pregnant women fare when diagnosed with COVID-19 compared to the unvaccinated, Epelboin said, the data showing the elevation in dangerous medical outcomes – for the mother and the child – should be a strong warning.

“Everyone can have his/her opinion, his/her representations of the vaccine, treatments, medicine, political exploitation, but when such data is there, it represents an effective force of persuasion,” she said.

Epelboin said she understands how hesitancy began for people who are either pregnant or attempting to become pregnant. Protecting the child in the womb is paramount to them, she said.

“The reasons given for hesitating are multiple but dominated by the fear of what pregnant women have heard and known for several decades now: Any treatment taken by the pregnant woman can harm the baby,” she said.

Now, with this information, she added, “Our duty is, therefore, to explain that in this case, the disease is more serious than its remedy: the vaccine.”

Mouanness said the hesitancy can be even stronger in people using in-vitro fertilization processes.

“Patients who have had a long history of infertility would not want to do anything to jeopardize their ongoing pregnancy, which they worked so long to achieve. They would rather take the risk of contracting COVID-19 instead of taking the risk with the adverse effects of the vaccine,” he said.

What they don’t understand, he added, “is that contracting COVID-19 might cause them to have adverse pregnancy outcomes, including miscarriage or preterm birth.”

His practice works to educate clients to understand this and get vaccinated.

Mouanness feels the French study comes at a crucial time.

“With the surging of new variants every once in a while, it is safe to say that it is better to add a safety layer to your immune system, and that can only be achieved by the vaccine,” he said.

“This evidence is key,” Jones said. “This pandemic, unfortunately, is not going away any time soon. It’s great to have more data to back up what we know. This confirms the beliefs of what we saw in New York.”

Vaccinations, she said, clearly reduce both the chances of developing COVID-19 as well as symptoms. With pregnancy making all that riskier, she said, she hopes people will believe this data and take the vaccine.