I-TEAM: Local health experts urge pregnant women to get vaccinated

Published: Aug. 26, 2021 at 7:10 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - At Augusta University Health alone, five expecting moms are in the intensive care unit right now.

Three are intubated, their babies all between 26 and 29 weeks.

The I-Team found pregnant moms are more likely to be intubated and deliver their babies pre-term. It’s why the medical director of perinatal services at AU sat down with us to sound the alarm and urge pregnant women to get vaccinated – immediately.

“I don’t think anything can prepare you for realizing, I’m a mom starting now and we have a baby,” said Alex Willis, an expectant mom.

She says of all the new first-time mom fears she’s relieved getting severely sick from COVID-19 isn’t top of mind anymore, now that she’s vaccinated.

“I signed up within the first week,” she said. “I didn’t think twice about it because of the research that had been done.”

As a physical therapist at AU Hospital who’s worked with COVID patients, she’s seen the suffering the pandemic has brought firsthand.

“Just seeing the literal anxiety – and fear that they can’t breathe,” she said.

Dr. Chadburn Ray is the medical director for AU’s perinatal services. He tells the I-Team he’s worried too for unvaccinated pregnant moms across the two-state.

“I have a significant fear of what it is going to look like not today or yesterday but what it’s going to look like in the next couple of weeks,” he said.

That’s because of what he’s seen – and what his colleagues are seeing across the country. A new medical study in the medical magazine JAMA earlier this month found that pregnant women who contract COVID are 22 times more likely to have a preterm birth. They are also 14 times more likely to be intubated and placed on a ventilator. And most alarmingly – they are 15 times more likely to die.

“If you’re having to weigh a safety profile, it seems that the disease itself is far worse for pregnant women then the vaccination is,” he said.

While he’s urging pregnant women to get vaccinated immediately with the surge of the delta variant, the I-Team found expectant moms are hesitant.

As of this week, only 24 percent of pregnant women nationwide are vaccinated according to the CDC. Asian and white women are more likely to be vaccinated versus Hispanic and black expectant moms. A major factor is pregnant women being omitted from the initial vaccine trials for Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson.

The CDC only published two weeks ago vaccination was safe for pregnant women. A warning that came too late for pregnant moms who have already died this summer all across the south.

With the risks rising by the day, as delta COVID continues to spread at record rates, Dr. Ray wants moms to turn to their doctors with questions versus social media.

“It’s so bothersome the amount of misinformation someone can gather just by looking at their phone on a day-to-day basis,” he said.

It’s a decision Alex says is peace of mind in an uncertain time.

“I can at least rest knowing that if I were to get it, you know, we would be okay,” he said.

And along with the five ICU patients at AU right now, they also are treating two additional moms with COVID complications who delivered already. In one case, the baby didn’t make it. To put the numbers in perspective, last month in July AU didn’t see any pregnant patients admitted to the hospital with COVID complications.

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