An unvaccinated woman is the first pregnant San Diego woman to die from COVID-19, county health officials said.
The woman died earlier this week after being hospitalized, as did her unborn child, the County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) said.
Details regarding her age, name, or other details about her death and pregnancy are not being reported to protect her and her family's privacy.
“This is a very unfortunate death, and our sincere condolences go out to the family and friends of the deceased,” said Dr. Seema Shah, medical director of HHSA’s Epidemiology and Immunization Services branch. “Contracting COVID-19 during pregnancy puts you at greater risk of having serious complications and death. We urge anyone who is pregnant and unvaccinated to get immunized to protect themselves and their babies.”
On Wednesday, the HHSA issued a health alert to the local medical community alerting them of an increase in cases and hospitalizations of unvaccinated pregnant women encouraging them to urge their patients to get vaccinated.
According to the county, from June 1, 2021, through Sept. 30, 2021, there have been 253 laboratory-confirmed cases among pregnant people, including 203 among those not fully vaccinated compared to 50 who were fully vaccinated. Of the 253, a total of 31 required hospitalizations; 30 of those hospitalized were not fully vaccinated.
Not fully vaccinated is defined as being unvaccinated or having received a single dose of Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines. Fully vaccinated is defined as being 14-days after the 2nd dose of Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Dr. Thomas Kelly, Director of Maternity-Fetal Medicine at UCSD Medical Center said he agrees with the CDC’s guidance late last month-urging pregnant women to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
"I've had a number of women tell me at the end of this saying, if I'd known better, I would have been vaccinated," Kelly said.
The CDC urged all pregnant women last month to get the COVID-19 vaccine as hospitals in hot spots around the U.S. were seeing disturbing numbers of unvaccinated mothers-to-be seriously ill with the virus.
The CDC says pregnant and recently pregnant people are more likely to get severely ill with COVID-19 compared with non-pregnant people and should be vaccinated. Read all the information the CDC has released on the vaccine and pregnancy here.
Earlier in the week, doctors debunked false COVID-19 claims made at the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. One of those claims was, "vaccines should not be given to pregnant people or those trying to get pregnant."
Kelly said he’s seen a surge in the number of unvaccinated pregnant women coming in for treatment—and they’re much sicker than what he’s seen before. He said the risks of Covid and treatment for it far outweigh potential risks from the vaccine for mothers and babies.
"We give other vaccines in pregnancy...but there seems to be a lot of concern about this vaccination because of its newness," Kelly said. I think it's the lack of understanding, and the therapies that are required to support these people are immense and with a lot of morbidity...if I can prevent one patient from getting this disease. I feel like I've done something great."
Dr. Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman from UC San Diego Health said, "We now have ample data on the safety of the COVID vaccine in pregnancy and there are benefits to getting the vaccine while pregnant for your child.
Vaccine-generated antibodies were found in the umbilical cord blood and the breast milk of pregnant people, meaning that they can actually transfer immunity to their newborns.
It’s actually one of the few things you can do to protect your newborn from COVID.
If you are pregnant and you get COVID, you are more likely to get very sick compared to someone who is not pregnant, who also gets COVID.
The rates of miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm birth and all of the adverse pregnancy outcomes they looked at were not different if you were vaccinated compared to the historic numbers of what these are expected to be.
This, in fact, is killing pregnant women and there is absolutely no reason that I can think of that a pregnant person should not be vaccinated."
Nearly 80% of eligible San Diegans are now fully vaccinated. The county urged those unvaccinated to get vaccinated by visiting local vaccination sites.