The research was led at the University of Edinburgh and also involved the Universities of Glasgow, Aberdeen and St Andrews, Public Health Scotland and Victoria University of Wellington. It has been published in the journal Nature Medicine
Women who have COVID-19 towards the end of their pregnancy are vulnerable to birth-related complications, according to new research involving the University of Strathclyde. They are more likely to have complications than those who get COVID-19 in the earlier stages of pregnancy or not to have had the virus at all.
The findings show that preterm births, stillbirths and newborn deaths are more common among women who have the virus 28 days, or less, before their delivery date. The majority of complications, which also include COVID-19 related critical care admissions, occurred in unvaccinated women, according to the research, which is one of the first national studies of pregnancy and COVID-19.
The research was led at the University of Edinburgh and also involved the Universities of Glasgow, Aberdeen and St Andrews, Public Health Scotland and Victoria University of Wellington. It has been published in the journal Nature Medicine.
Professor Chris Robertson, of Strathclyde’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics, a partner in the study said, “This is an exceptionally important study using the linked health data in Scotland, which is able to identify all pregnant women in Scotland and match to their vaccination and health outcomes data. This is carried out in a secure environment such that individual women cannot be identified by the researchers. The evidence provided should reassure pregnant women about the benefits of the vaccines and demonstrates the risks unvaccinated women face from COVID-19 infection.”
The team analysed data relating to all pregnant women in Scotland. It included more than 87,000 women who were pregnant between the start of vaccination uptake in December 2020 and October 2021.
Vaccination uptake during the study period was lower in pregnant women, compared with women aged 18 to 44 in the general population. Around 32 per cent of women who gave birth in October 2021 were fully vaccinated – meaning more than 14 days had elapsed since a second vaccine – compared with 77 per cent of the general female population aged 18 to 44.
They found that the extended perinatal death rate among babies born within 28 days of their mother developing COVID-19 was 23 per 1,000 births. All baby deaths occurred with women who were unvaccinated against COVID-19 at the time of infection. Around 17 per cent of babies born within 28 days of their mother developing COVID-19 were delivered prematurely more than three weeks before their due date.
The researchers stated that it is not possible to say if COVID-19 contributed directly to the deaths or preterm births, as they did not have access to detailed clinical records for individual women.
Professor Nicola Steedman, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, said: “These findings are of concern and reinforce the importance for pregnant women or those thinking of getting pregnant of getting vaccinated as soon as possible. The COVID-19 vaccine is the best way to protect pregnant women and their babies against these risks and can be given at any stage during pregnancy.