During the early days of the 2021 legislative session, the Kentucky House Democratic Women’s Caucus sponsored the Kentucky Maternal and Infant Health project, a slate of over 20 bills and resolutions designed to raise awareness about Kentucky’s maternal health crisis, and to improve health outcomes for birthing people and infants across the commonwealth.
The need for action is clear. The rate of Kentucky women dying from pregnancy-related causes is more than double the national average, with the United States being last in maternal health outcomes among wealthy countries.
These alarming maternal health ratings long pre-date the onset of COVID-19, and the current pandemic has made matters much more dangerous for pregnancy and childbirth. Studies show that pregnant women and new mothers are more likely to become severely ill from COVID than those who are not pregnant, and their risk of dying is 70% higher than other patients. The virus also increases the likelihood of premature delivery and other complications.
Fortunately, we have a way to address the severely increased risk to pregnant people and new mothers; the COVID vaccines are highly effective at preventing infection and limiting the severity of symptoms for those who later test positive. This life-saving treatment has been approved for pregnant women and new mothers, and there is growing evidence that these women, once vaccinated, are passing along protective antibodies to their unborn children.
This bright silver lining is why we believe the best thing we can do at the moment to improve maternal and infant health is to get COVID vaccine shots into as many arms of pregnant people and new mothers as possible.
In late July, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine put their support behind this cause, and on Aug. 11th, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report strongly urged vaccines for pregnant people and lactating mothers. The report cited a new study of 2,500 vaccinated pregnant people who were found to have no increased risk of miscarriage.
Alarmingly, the CDC reports that fewer than a fourth of pregnant women have received any COVID vaccine, underscoring the broad uncertainty many still have about something that affects both them and their child. We understand that hesitancy, but at the same time hope that these studies and the recent full FDA approval of a vaccine will give them greater peace of mind and make them more likely to get vaccinated.
The need for action could not be clearer, as COVID caseloads return to numbers not seen since winter, and pediatric hospital wards fill up with young patients.
It is vitally important to emphasize that vaccines have been a regular part of our life for decades. Before they turn two, most young children will have been inoculated against several diseases that once wreaked havoc on earlier generations.
Those vaccines are the reasons why we no longer live in fear of diseases like polio, measles, mumps and whooping cough. There is reason to believe that a COVID vaccine will eventually be approved for most if not all children.
Until that time arrives, the best way to protect them — and all of us — is to get more eligible people vaccinated. It remains the easiest and most straight-forward path we have to keep all of us healthy and our schools and economy open. It also will make a world of difference for those who are pregnant, or want to be, and the children they are bringing into the world. Let’s do all we can to protect them now and give them a brighter future.
Kentucky House Democratic Caucus members who have signed on for this op-ed are Reps. Lisa Willner, Joni Jenkins, Derrick Graham, Angie Hatton, Mary Lou Marzian, Kelly Flood, Ruth Ann Palumbo, Susan Westrom Pam Stevenson, Attica Scott, McKenzie Cantrell, Josie Raymond, Patti Minter, Buddy Wheatley, Nima Kulkarni, Cherlynn Stevenson, Rachel Roberts, Ashley Tackett Laferty, Reginald Meeks, Jeff Donohue, Al Gentry, Tom Burch, George Brown, and Charlie Miller.