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UIHC Advises Pregnant Women To Get The COVID-19 Vaccine

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Hospitals around the country are seeing a spike in unvaccinated pregnant women with COVID-19 and that includes Iowa’s largest hospital.

In the last month, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics has cared for six unvaccinated pregnant women with COVID-19 in the medical intensive care unit. Joel Kline, a critical care physician at UIHC, said these women come in very sick; they need to be intubated and put on a ventilator. The women had emergency C-sections to deliver their children early, he said.

“Even though, of course, an early delivery is risky, we know that low oxygen level for the fetus is much more devastating,” Kline said, “so we’re making that choice.”

Kline said he thinks many pregnant women aren’t getting the COVID-19 vaccine because of a fear of the unknown. Nationwide, less than a quarter of all pregnant women are vaccinated. But recent studies have shown the vaccine is safe in pregnancy.

“I think that every pregnant mother obviously wants the best for her unborn child and there's concern about what an unknown new vaccine might do,” Kline said.

The reason pregnant women are more likely to get severely sick “is a little bit unclear,” Kline said. He said pregnancy acts sort of like a state of immune suppression to help the development of a child. UIHC works closely with the hospital’s high risk obstetrics team to monitor the mother’s health and the baby’s health so they can make a decision about whether early delivery is necessary, Kline said. They carefully monitor the mother’s oxygen level.

“After the mother uses the blood, then it passes on to the baby, which is why a small change in the mother’s oxygen level can lead to a devastatingly low oxygen level for the baby,” Kline said. “That’s what we’re trying to prevent.”

Kline said most pregnant women with COVID-19 have stayed in the hospital’s MICU for at least 10 days. He’s advising expectant mothers to get the vaccine as soon as possible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all pregnant women get the COVID vaccine.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.