AUSTIN, Texas — Austin Public Health is encouraging women who are pregnant or breastfeeding to get vaccinated, as more are ending up in the hospital with a severe case of COVID-19 due to the delta variant.
At a news conference on Monday, Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said cases of COVID-19 in pregnant women are leaving some on a ventilator and, in the most severe cases, resulting in a stillbirth.
“Unlike the original COVID that we were seeing 18 months ago, this new delta variant is effecting our pregnant moms more severely,” Dr. Jessica Ehrig with Baylor Scott & White said. “We’re seeing moms that are getting infected by COVID right now, particularly the delta cause it’s the dominant variant, are more likely to get hospitalized. They’re more likely to end up with a severe disease, and they’re more likely to end up in the ICU.”
Dr. Kimberly DeStefano with St. David’s North Austin Medical Center said the earlier a pregnant woman is vaccinated, the more antibodies are present at the time of birth to protect the baby. Also, antibodies are passed in breast milk.
When the vaccine became available to Devin Falck, she jumped at the opportunity to get it so she could pass antibodies to her 3-month-old son, Miles, who has cystic fibrosis.
"Even the chance that I could pass some sort of protection on to Miles means I probably will be extending the amount of time that I'm breastfeeding longer than I had initially planned just to give him any chance," Falck said.
Falck has a tough time taking her son with a high-risk disease into the public, and hopes she can give him the biggest advantage possible to live a normal life again soon.
"We don't really have another way to protect him," she added.
DeStefano said mothers infected with COVID-19 often have to give birth early due to the virus. Doctors at the Q&A said there isn’t enough data to suggest any long-term effects on babies whose mothers had the virus while carrying them, but premature births can lead to a wide range of complications, including diabetes.
Dr. Alison Cahill with Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin said pregnant mothers themselves are seeing long-term effects after contracting the coronavirus. Cahill said oftentimes mothers are unable to care for their children because they are not fully recovered.
Cahill cited developing chronic lung disease or going home on oxygen as examples.
Ehrig said that the majority of pregnant patients in the ICU are unvaccinated. Cahill added that she has seen breakthrough cases in pregnant women, but they’re not common and are less severe.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine are recommending that COVID-19 vaccines are safe for pregnant women and encouraging their members to recommend it.
APH is also asking all pregnant or breastfeeding women to wear a mask.
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