Pregnant women are getting vaccinated against COVID-19 at very low rates, a new report finds.
Only 16 percent of mothers-to-be in the U.S. had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine by early May, the Centers for Disease (Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed on Tuesday.
Vaccination rates diverge significantly by race: 25 percent of Asian pregnant women and 20 percent of white women were vaccinated compared to 12 percent of Hispanic women and only six percent of black women.
This is especially surprising because expecting mothers are more vulnerable to severe cases of COVID-19 or dying from the disease than the general population.
The CDC researchers expect vaccination coverage among pregnant women to increase as vaccine access continues to improve and more information on the shots’ safety becomes available.
A CDC study found that only 16% of U.S. pregnant women had received at least one vaccine dose. Pictured: A pregnant woman receives a COVID vaccine at Skippack Pharmacy in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania
Asian and white pregnant women had higher overall vaccination rates at 25% and 20%, respectively, compared to black and Hispanic women with vaccination rates of only 6% and 12%, respectively
When COVID-19 vaccines went through clinical trials, they were not tested in pregnant or breastfeeding women despite their increased risk of severe illness or death.
Such a practice is common in clinical trials because researchers don’t want to risk the health of expecting women.
But it left these women with limited information on safety risks that the vaccines may have posed.
Regulators said the evidence on these vaccines did not raise safety concerns, yet without data specifically on pregnant women, they could not make guarantees.
Despite the limited data, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for emergency use in early December, the agency said that pregnant women could choose to get vaccinated.
At the time, some scientists saw this as a major step forward for pregnant women – they could make their own healthcare decisions.
Doctors recommended that women consult with their doctors to make a personal choice weighing the risk of severe COVID against the unknowns of a new vaccine.
But the new data from the CDC suggest that many pregnant women in the U.S. chose not to get vaccinated, at least, not in early months of the vaccine rollout.
Researchers analyzed data from Vaccine Safety Datalink, an information portal run by the CDC and nine large healthcare organizations based in seven different states. The database includes about 11.6 million Americans in total.
The researchers searched this database for women who were pregnant between December 14, 2020 – when the Pfizer vaccine was the first to receive authorization – and May 8, 2021. They identified 136,000.
Out of those 136,000 pregnant women, only 22,000 received a vaccine dose during the five-month period – a rate of just 16 percent.
Of those 22,000 women, about 15,000 had completed their vaccination series and another 7,000 had received at least one dose.
CDC researchers say pregnant women may have been hesitant to get vaccinated because limited safety data was available for them. Pictured: A pregnant woman receives her shot
Why the low vaccination rate? The CDC researchers suggest that pregnant women may have been hesitant to get vaccinated due to the limited safety data available on the new COVID vaccines as well as potential access issues.
Older pregnant women were more likely to get vaccinated than younger women. Pregnant women between the ages of 35 and 49 had a 23 percent vaccination rate, compared to just a 6 percent rate for ages 18 to 24.
Rates also differed significantly by race and ethnicity. Pregnant Asian women had the highest vaccination rate, at 25 percent. White women also had a higher rate, at 20 percent.
Pregnant Hispanic and black women, meanwhile, had vaccination rates of only 12 percent and six percent, respectively.
This means white and Asian women were vaccinated at a rate up to four times higher than black women.
Black and Hispanic Americans have lower vaccination rates overall and experts have cited distrust in the medical community as a potential reason why these groups may be hesitant.
Some survey data suggests, however, that many black and Hispanic Americans do want to get vaccinated – yet face access barriers, such as being unable to find an appointment near where they live or one that fits into their work schedule.
Vaccination rates have improved over time for all the demographic groups included in the CDC study.
This is likely due to improved access to vaccines as well as more information on vaccine safety.
Vaccine makers and public health agencies have carefully monitored the safety of those pregnant women who get vaccinated. These studies have shown that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe for pregnant women.
Some preliminary studies have even shown that, if a mother gets vaccinated, she can transfer COVID-19 antibodies to her newborn through placenta and breast milk.
The CDC researchers expect vaccination coverage to continue improving over the coming months.
Still, the researchers say their findings ‘indicate the need for improved outreach to and engagement with pregnant women, especially those from racial and ethnic minority groups who might be at higher risk for severe health outcomes because of COVID.’