20% of UK’s critically ill COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated pregnant women

The United Kingdom‘s National Health Service (NHS) is urging pregnant women to get vaccinated for COVID-19 after new data shows that nearly 20% of the nation’s most critically ill COVID-19 patients are pregnant women who have not yet been immunized.

"Since July, one in five COVID patients receiving treatment through a special lung-bypass machine were expectant mums who have not had their first jab," the NHS wrote in a report published on Monday. 

The NHS said that almost a third of female patients between the ages of 16 and 49 who undergo a therapy called Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation — used for COVID-19 patients whose lungs have undergone such severe trauma that a ventilator no longer works to maintain oxygen levels — are unvaccinated pregnant women. 

So far, more than 81,000 pregnant women have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in the U.K., according to the NHS, but health officials are saying more is needed. 

"We are urgently calling for all pregnant women to come forward for their vaccinations. There is robust evidence showing that the vaccine is the most effective way to protect both mother and baby against the possibility of severe illness from COVID-19. The disproportionate number of unvaccinated pregnant women in intensive care demonstrates that there is a significant risk of severe illness from COVID-19 in pregnancy," said Dr. Edward Morris, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

"We do understand women’s concerns about having the vaccine in pregnancy, and we want to reassure women that there is no link between having the vaccine and an increased risk of miscarriage, premature birth, or stillbirth," Morris added. 

The urgent warnings from health officials on COVID-19 vaccination for those who are pregnant aren’t limited to the U.K. 

Last month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an urgent advisory "strongly" recommending that pregnant people and those who want to become pregnant get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The CDC said it "strongly recommends" COVID-19 vaccination either before or during pregnancy because "the benefits of vaccination outweigh known or potential risks."

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The CDC recommends COVID-19 vaccination for all people aged 12 years and older, including people who are pregnant, recently pregnant (including those who are lactating), who are trying to get pregnant now, or who might become pregnant in the future. The CDC said its recommendations align with those from professional medical organizations serving people who are pregnant.

As of Oct. 4, more than 127,000 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases have been reported in pregnant people in the U.S., including more than 22,000 hospitalized cases and 171 deaths.

The CDC noted that pregnant and recently pregnant people with COVID-19 are at increased risk for severe illness when compared with non-pregnant people. Severe illness includes illness that requires hospitalization, intensive care unit admission, mechanical ventilation or illness that results in death.

Pregnant people with COVID-19 are also at increased risk for preterm birth and some data suggest an increased risk for other adverse pregnancy complications and outcomes, such as preeclampsia, coagulopathy and stillbirth, compared with pregnant people without COVID-19, according to the agency.

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"Getting a COVID-19 vaccine can prevent severe illness, death, and pregnancy complications related to COVID-19," the CDC wrote in its report.

The highest number of COVID-19-related deaths in pregnant people in a single month of the pandemic was reported in August. So far, more than 195,000 pregnant people have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 as of OCt. 2, according to the CDC

This story was reported from Los Angeles. Stephanie Weaver contributed.