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New Research on COVID-19 and Pregnancy

New findings shed further light on how the coronavirus affects pregnant women and add evidence for safety and protection of vaccines.
Image credit: iStock/SDI Productions

Despite the dropping of nearly all mask and testing mandates, coronavirus and its ever-evolving variants continue to threaten the health of the global population. People capable of pregnancy are particularly susceptible, with the immune system having to work to protect both the parent and growing fetus against the virus. Research has shown that pregnant women sick with COVID-19 were at higher risk for experiencing more severe symptoms and complications compared to women who are not pregnant.  But, there is still much we don’t understand about how COVID-19 affects pregnancy. A new study from Jefferson Health offers new insights into a key question: how does the body respond to COVID-19 infection vs. the vaccine during pregnancy? Here we talk to the lead researcher of the study –Rupsa Boelig, MD – about how the findings could help people who are pregnant or planning to conceive navigate these complex times.

Can you describe how this study came about? What were you trying to answer?

Dr. Boelig: Researchers had found that pregnant women with even mild cases of COVID-19 were at increased risk of adverse outcomes like pre-term birth and placental pathology. We showed recently that COVID-19, even if mild, causes an inflammatory response which leads to symptoms like fever, chills, and body aches. Viral-like symptoms are also experienced with the COVID-vaccine, which have led some women to have concerns about getting the vaccine. There was still a lot we didn’t know about how the inflammatory response to the virus works, particularly during pregnancy. So, we wanted to see compare the inflammation in pregnant women who got COVID to those who got the COVID-19 vaccine vs controls who had neither.

What did your research find?

Dr. Boelig: We collected data between March 2020 and July 2021. We had 306 pregnant women enroll as part of our study, and compared a group of those who had gotten COVID-19 and a group of those who had no COVID-19, but had received the vaccine during their pregnancy. In analyzing blood samples, we found that COVID-19 disease, even mild cases, had increased markers of inflammation and placental injury in the pregnant mother. These inflammatory markers have been associated with preterm birth, and indeed patients with COVID-19 were also at increased risk of preterm birth. COVID-19 vaccination in pregnancy, on the other hand, did not have these effects. In fact, a key inflammatory marker related to preterm birth, TNFa, was actually lowered in those who were vaccinated, offering even more evidence for the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination in pregnancy.

How do these findings inform recommendations for people who can and are thinking about becoming pregnant?

Dr. Boelig: Our study adds to literature on the safety and importance of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy. Most importantly, despite viral-like symptoms some may experience after getting the vaccine, it does not cause the same systemic inflammatory response and harm to fetus seen with COVID-19 disease. People who can get pregnant should feel safe getting the vaccine, for the protection it offers them and their child.­

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COVID-19, Research & Innovation

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