State officials are urging pregnant women to get vaccinated against COVID-19 after Mississippi reported its 15th death among pregnant women and 72 fetal deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said Thursday that eight of the 15 deaths in pregnant woman have happened since July 25 and all of them were unvaccinated — though one was partially vaccinated.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said the most recent death of a pregnant woman occurred Wednesday.
Dobbs said the women who died were between the ages of 23 and 40, with an average age of 30, and that 60% of them were Black. A majority were overweight.
Dr. Marty Tucker, a professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics at the University of the Mississippi Medical Center, said 12 of the 15 had been receiving treatment at UMMC since April and all 12 fetuses survived, but some were born significantly premature.
The risk of pregnancy loss is doubled with COVID. according to state officials.
Tucker, who is also the president of American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, called each death an avoidable tragedy and added that all approved coronavirus vaccines are safe and effective for pregnant women.
“The vaccine should be recommended during pregnancy,” he said, adding that in the risk of possible harm to fetuses there is “absolutely none.”
Tucker noted that just 24% of pregnant women nationally are vaccinated.
“We can do better than that,” he said.
Pregnant women are at a higher risk of severe illness and death from the coronavirus, Tucker said.
There is also evidence of antibodies in umbilical cord and breast milk, but it is unknown if that has any effects on the child, Tucker said.
Byers said there are some encouraging trend in the state’s infection rates and hospitalizations.
“Overall encouraging numbers, but we are still at high levels of cases and deaths,” he said, noting that cases were trending down and are now at the rates of the peak of the winter surge.
There were about 95,000 cases in August alone Byers said, and that accounts for about 20% of the total cases in the state.
There were 2,594 infections and 65 deaths reported Thursday, which Byers said has become “the norm” for the state in the recent few weeks.
Senior Deputy for the MSDH and Health Protection Director Jim Craig said the state’s intensive care space has eased up a bit, noting that though there were 30 beds available Thursday, with 150 patients in emergency rooms and 71 of those waiting on an ICU bed. Six were coronavirus patients, which makes the state’s capacity effectively still zero.
Craig said the state is still using federal and private staff in hospitals, but there are still not enough health care workers to fill the need and space. Two of the three state field hospitals are still active but one was closed this week.