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Data Begin To Provide Some Answers On Pregnancy And The Pandemic


We are all considering our health more during the COVID-19 pandemic, but women who are pregnant as the coronavirus circulates through society may have even more concerns. Are they more vulnerable to the disease, and what about their babies? But in the early days of the pandemic, there was very little research to provide answers. Now a number of new studies and CDC reports are out, and the picture is beginning to be more clear.

Dr. Denise Jamieson is the chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Emory University. She's also a member of the COVID Task Force at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Dr. Jamieson, thanks for joining us.

DENISE JAMIESON: Thanks so much.

PFEIFFER: I want to start with a big overview. So many women were concerned early on if they were pregnant or just had a newborn of what this could mean for them and their babies. How worried, if at all, should pregnant women and mothers of newborns be about COVID-19 at this point based on what science tells us?

JAMIESON: Well, I think these recent findings over the last few weeks should be somewhat reassuring to pregnant women and their families. However, I still think there are many reasons to be vigilant about COVID-19. It's still really important that pregnant women take measures to protect themselves, and it's also really important that pregnant women have access to COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they're available.

PFEIFFER: Let's talk about some specific concerns women had. There was a fear that if a pregnant woman was COVID positive, she might pass that along to her baby, either in utero or during childbirth. Do we know if that happens?

JAMIESON: Well, it seems to be able to cross the placenta and infect fetuses during pregnancy. However, the good news is that this doesn't seem to happen very often, and there isn't evidence that when this happens there's an association with birth defects the way we've found with viruses like Zika.

PFEIFFER: And those babies are generally OK despite being infected?

JAMIESON: For the most part the babies, yes, have done well.

PFEIFFER: Pregnant women in general are more susceptible to respiratory infections, and COVID-19 is obviously a respiratory disease. Do we know if COVID has exacerbated respiratory issues in pregnant women?

JAMIESON: They're probably more likely to have severe disease if they're infected with COVID. But this increased risk is not nearly as dramatic as it is with some other respiratory infections, such as influenza.

PFEIFFER: Which seems to be something that applies to the general population as well. People who are in some way have compromised health often find themselves more compromised when they get COVID.

JAMIESON: That's correct.

PFEIFFER: Some of these studies are small. What caveats would you have to say about the limitations of what we know so far?

JAMIESON: Although we continue to learn more every day, I think there are important challenges to all the data. The biggest problem is that most of the reports don't have an appropriate comparison group. So you have to be able to compare either pregnant women with COVID to non-pregnant women with COVID, or you need to be able to compare pregnant COVID positive women to pregnant COVID negative women. And for many of these studies, they don't have an appropriate comparison group.

PFEIFFER: There were some women wondering if they should avoid getting pregnant during the pandemic. Would you advise that, to wait until it's over to try to have a baby?

JAMIESON: I would not recommend a delay in pregnancy. I think women can take measures to avoid COVID during pregnancy and to protect themselves during pregnancy. And when to get pregnant is such a personal and complicated decision, and this pandemic will probably be with us for a while. I would not advise delaying pregnancy solely on the basis of the COVID pandemic.

PFEIFFER: Dr. Jamieson, in your job, do you still work with patients?

JAMIESON: Yes. I am on labor and delivery today.

PFEIFFER: (Laughter) Oh, you are. Have you found that the experience of being pregnant or having a baby during the pandemic has compromised or reduced the joy of pregnancy and delivery for any women?

JAMIESON: I hope it hasn't substantially reduced the joy of having a baby, but I do worry that with restrictions on visitation in the hospital and then also the social isolation after women go home from the hospital, I do think it's fundamentally changed the experience of having a baby.

PFEIFFER: In a way that you wish it hadn't, it sounds like.

JAMIESON: Yes. I look forward to a day when the pandemic is over, and we have a safe, available and effective vaccine and we don't have to social distance.

PFEIFFER: That's Dr. Denise Jamieson of Emory University. Thank you for coming on the program.

JAMIESON: Thank you for your interest in this topic. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.