Despite assurances of safety from personal physicians and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many pregnant women across Indiana are saying no to the COVID-19 vaccine.
The results are serious and can be deadly: One day this week at IU Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, seven pregnant women with COVID were on ventilators. One died.
“The Delta variant is hitting healthy pregnant women extremely hard,” said Joseph Landwehr, a physician and chairman of the Department of OB/GYN at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital in Muncie. “It’s a really big problem.”
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Landwehr sees 20 to 30 pregnant women a day. He has 200 patients and has some contact with another 100. And Landwehr says the COVID vaccine is a tough sell to his patients, despite his assurances that it is safe for the patients and their babies.
Fueled by the delta variant, COVID-19 numbers are on the rise across the country and across Indiana. The state of Indiana reported on Wednesday 5,037 new COVID cases, the highest single-day total since Jan. 10. More than 2,000 people were hospitalized with the coronavirus — the most since January — and 529 were in intensive care statewide.
Most area hospitals seeing increase in hospitalizations
Hospitals in Lafayette, Muncie and Richmond responded to requests from The Star Press for their latest COVID-19 numbers in the patient population generally and numbers of pregnant COVID-19 patients in their care, but in most cases, the numbers of pregnant women in their care were not immediately available.
At IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital in Muncie, the hospital had 54 COVID inpatients Thursday, an increase from 38 on Aug. 20. Ten of the 54 COVID-positive patients were younger than 50. Seven were on ventilators, said Courtney Schmoll, public relations manager. IU Health BMH had two COVID-positive pregnant inpatients, but they have both since delivered.
At Franciscan Health in Lafayette, 24 COVID inpatients were in the hospital, down two from last week. Seven were on ventilators. Three were vaccinated, said Lisa Kiely Decker, vice president of marketing and communications.
At IU Health Arnett Hospital in Lafayette, the hospital had 29 inpatients, up from 23 last week, with six at other affiliated hospitals in the area. At Arnett, seven are in the intensive care unit and two of those are on ventilators, said Rhonda W. Jones, senior public relations coordinator.
At Reid Health in Richmond, the latest numbers available were from Tuesday. The hospital had 39 COVID inpatients, up from 29 less than a week ago, and four were on ventilators, said Jason Truitt, media relations specialist. Numbers of vaccinated and pregnant patients were not available.
Pregnant women urged to get COVID vaccination
Pregnancy increases the risk of severe illness from COVID-19, health authorities say.
“We’ve got a big problem here with pregnant women not wanting to get the vaccine,” Landwehr said. “Pregnant women have a bad time coming off the ventilator. It’s a really big problem.”
On Aug. 11, the CDC issued a statement that the COVID vaccine was safe for pregnant people.
“CDC encourages all pregnant people or people who are thinking about becoming pregnant and those breastfeeding to get vaccinated to protect themselves from COVID-19,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. “The vaccines are safe and effective, and it has never been more urgent to increase vaccinations as we face the highly transmissible delta variant and see severe outcomes from COVID-19 among unvaccinated pregnant people.”
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Landwehr cited several national healthcare groups that urged COVID vaccinations for pregnant women. More than a dozen physician and healthcare groups issued a “statement of strong medical consensus for vaccination of pregnant individuals against COVID-19.”
When he sees his patients, Landwehr said, he advises them they should get the vaccine.
Reasons his patients give for not getting vaccinated include waiting for FDA action — the FDA this week approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — as well as concerns of any ill effects on their pregnancy and child and future fertility.
“I tell them over 100,000 pregnant women in the United States have received the vaccine and to date we’ve seen no birth defects,” he said. “And you’re born with all the eggs you’ll ever have. Infertility is not linked to the COVID vaccine.”
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Rosette Kfoury, a physician and infectious disease at IU Health Ball, said, “We can also add that women are worried about taking the vaccine because of the concern of infertility and this is not true, because a lot of women became pregnant after taking the vaccine. This vaccine, like any other vaccines, (does) not increase the risk of infertility.
“Vaccines are encouraged for pregnant women to decrease the risk of severe disease and the negative impact on the unborn child. (And) no increased risk for babies if lactating women are planning on taking the vaccine. On the contrary, it might help provide some immunity to the child.”
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“Looking at this as a doctor, not getting into politics, the science is solid and it’s a very safe vaccine,” Landwehr said. “This is 95% effective.”
Landwehr said that he thinks news accounts of pregnant women sick from COVID and going on ventilators is having an effect on his patients. “Two or three this week have said, ‘I’m getting scared.’”
The doctor said he knows he can’t be too heavy-handed in his advice. “Nine out of 10 say they’re not ready yet,” Landwehr said. “Every time they come for their visit, I’m pushing. In the third trimester, I see them every week, but I won’t browbeat them every week. I say, ‘Now that we know more pregnant women are on the ventilator and dying, I just want you to be aware.’”