Editor's note: This story originated at The Capital Sun, a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in Idaho. Several Sun staffers are former reporters at the Moscow-Pullman Daily News.
More pregnant women in Idaho are getting sick with COVID-19. Some of them have to be hospitalized and put on ventilators because they can’t breathe — and, sometimes, their babies are delivered early because of preterm labor or in an effort to save the baby’s or mother’s life.
“The heartbreaking discussions we are having with the families and loved ones of paralyzed, intubated mothers are completely preventable, if only they had been vaccinated,” St. Luke’s Health System Perinatal Health Director Dr. Lauren Miller said in an emailed statement to the Sun.
Pregnant women are 22 times more likely to die from COVID-19, according to a study published this year in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
Women with the coronavirus had “higher rates of adverse outcomes, including maternal mortality, preeclampsia, and preterm birth,” the researchers said. Their babies were significantly more at risk of illness and death, too, they found.
Meanwhile, a review of more than 35,000 post-vaccination reports by pregnant women found no increased risk of miscarriage (typical rates are 10-26 percent; the post-vaccination rate was 12.6 percent).
There also is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines affect the fertility of men or women.
That is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that women who are pregnant get vaccinated.
Dozens of pregnant women hospitalized with COVID-19 last month
Miller said that, in St. Luke’s clinics and hospitals, “we have seen a sizable increase in the number of women with a new diagnosis of COVID-19.”
About 80 pregnant women were diagnosed in August, up from about 15 in June, she said.
This month is on track to outpace August. In the first week of September, about 37 pregnant St. Luke’s patients were newly diagnosed with COVID-19, she said.
And more of those women are getting seriously ill.
At the peak of the last fall and winter surge, St. Luke’s had about 40 to 50 pregnant women hospitalized each month with COVID-19, Miller said.
That number dropped to a low of less than 10 in June.
But with the delta variant spreading fast through Idaho, the numbers have risen again.
“With the August surge, we were back up to 37 pregnant women hospitalized with a new diagnosis of COVID-19, including several in the ICU requiring invasive ventilation,” Miller said. “Our emergency room visits for pregnant women (with COVID-19) in August are already back to the same levels we saw in December of 2020.”
At another of Idaho’s largest hospital systems, at least two pregnant patients have become so sick they needed to be intubated, according to a spokesperson.
One of the women who required a ventilator to breathe was carrying twins, said Mark Snider, spokesperson for Saint Alphonsus Health System.
The babies had to be delivered at 28 weeks — about two months early — by emergency C-section, he said.
“Mom and babies are doing well,” he added.
Just in the past three weeks, the health system’s Boise and Nampa hospitals have delivered babies of 17 women who had COVID-19, Snider said.
About 11.3 percent of the women whose babies were delivered at Saint Al’s in Boise in the past three weeks had COVID-19. The rate in Nampa was 12.8 percent.
Obstetricians “fully support vaccination for women who are attempting conception and for those who are already pregnant,” Miller said. “We also strongly encourage all family and household contacts to obtain vaccination as well.”
Miller has personally taken care of “innumerable patients who have contact traced their exposure to the workplace of their unvaccinated partners,” she said. “Vaccination DOES NOT increase the risk of miscarriage, fetal complications, preterm birth or stillbirth. On the flip side, emerging data on actual infection with COVID-19 during pregnancy is showing an ominous trend towards higher rates of preterm birth and stillbirth.”
Miller said that “the majority” of the sickest pregnant patients at St. Luke’s had “no other risk factors for severe disease other than simply being pregnant.”
Audrey Dutton, senior investigative reporter, joined the Idaho Capital Sun after 10 years at the Idaho Statesman.