Only 32% of pregnant Americans are vaccinated, with divide worsening along racial lines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued its most urgent appeal for pregnant individuals to get the COVID-19 vaccine. New CDC data shows that pregnant people are twice as likely to be hospitalized due to the virus. Just 32% of pregnant Americans are currently vaccinated, and the racial disparities are stark. Amna Nawaz explores the issue with gynecologist Dr. Joia Crear-Perry.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The CDC released its most urgent appeal to date calling on pregnant women to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

    New CDC data show that pregnant women are twice as likely to be hospitalized if they get the virus. More than 22,000 women have been hospitalized so far; 161 have died, and 22 of those deaths were in August.

    Amna Nawaz has more on the vaccine and the risks of the virus.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's right, Judy.

    Just 32 percent of pregnant women are currently vaccinated, and the racial disparities are stark. Among Asian women, 47 percent are vaccinated, as are 35 percent of white women. Among Hispanics and Latinas, only 27 percent are inoculated, and, among Black women, just 17 percent.

    We explore this all with OB-GYN Dr. Joia Crear-Perry. She's also founder and president of the National Birth Equity Collaborative. That's an organization focused on the reproductive health and well-being of Black women.

    Dr. Crear-Perry, welcome to the "NewsHour." Thank you for making the time.

    Let's start with the overall number. What do we know about why those vaccination rates, specifically for pregnant women, are so low?

  • Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, Founder, National Birth Equity Collaborative:

    Well, we took a long time to really get around to pregnant women.

    If you think about the beginning of this pandemic, we were focused on the elderly, on front-line workers, and so our messaging and our outreach really focused on those areas.

    And for so long, that kind of left pregnant women, as well as — pregnant people, as well as children out of the conversation. So, it's confusing, I'm sure, if you're pregnant right now, to say it's been 18 months. Why now are you coming to me saying I need to be vaccinated?

    So, we have to do a really good job explaining that, although, in the beginning we didn't have data showing pregnant people needed to get vaccinated because they weren't the most at risk, we have got those front-line workers vaccinated, we have got the elderly vaccinated, and now the virus has moved on to the next host, right?

    And the next host who is unvaccinated is going to be pregnant people and children, because we didn't include them in the beginning. So the science tells us it's time that we really beef up our efforts to reaching out to that group.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So what does an urgent action from the CDC change? What does that mean? How does that get more shots in arms?

  • Dr. Joia Crear-Perry:

    Yes, it's really important, because I know from my colleagues who are OB-GYN many people are not telling their patients to become vaccinated.

    So when we see a call from the CDC, we heed that, as providers, as scientists, as health care — as midwives, as OB-GYN, the CDC saying, hey, guys, you need to — we have to make sure that pregnant people are vaccinated, that means our job is to respond, ensure that our patients when they come in for their prenatal care appointments, we offer the vaccine, we have it in our offices, when they show up in labor and delivery, that it's available.

    It really changes the sense of urgency when the CDC says to the medical community, this is important in our job is to respond, so that our patients can thrive.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And, Doctor, what about the gap we're seeing across racial and ethnic backgrounds? What should we attribute that to?

  • Dr. Joia Crear-Perry:

    We know that there is warranted mistrust, that we have history and legacy, between Henrietta Lacks, the history of J. Marion Sims, that the black community, black birthing people have a mistrust of the health care system.

    But that's an opportunity. We can really lean in and ensure that we give them the information that they need, so they can make a good decision with a trusted provider. So this is an opportunity for my field to invest in trust-building.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We have also seen pregnant women and women who hope to be pregnant targeted with misinformation online.

    I want to tick through some of the things we have seen and get you to quickly address them. From the studies you have seen so far, is there any evidence the vaccine causes infertility if you're trying to get pregnant?

  • Dr. Joia Crear-Perry:

    There is no evidence that the vaccine causes infertility.

    In fact, we are worried in the future we might find out that COVID causes infertility, because we know it causes blood vessel damage, and you have blood vessels around your ovaries, around your reproductive parts. And so you want to get vaccinated to protect your fertility, not because — it does not harm it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Any evidence that the vaccine increases the chance of miscarriage or stillbirth?

  • Dr. Joia Crear-Perry:

    There is no evidence that the vaccine causes either miscarriage or stillbirth.

    We know that COVID causes premature birth. People who are contracting the virus are having babies too small, who are not living, and who are being born and having to go to the ICU.

    So, instead of focusing on the vaccine, we should really be worried about the virus. The virus causes illness. The virus causes babies to be too early. So getting the vaccine protects your baby and protects you from having a baby that's too small.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, if someone is pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, what would be your best advice to them right now if they're on the fence about getting the shot, so they feel better about that decision?

  • Dr. Joia Crear-Perry:

    Well, it's important to talk to your provider, which is probably one of the reasons why we see lower rates with black and Latino folks, because we don't have necessarily a continuous provider, but that trusted provider to ensure that you feel comfortable and get all of your questions and your answers — your questions answered, because we want you to get the vaccine, we want you to be safe.

    And so going — if you're thinking about being pregnant, if you're trying to get pregnant, or if you already are, or if you're lactating, all of those times are still very safe to be vaccinated and ensure that your provider has a conversation with you to make sure that your — all your questions are answered, so we can get you vaccinated.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, founder and president of the National Birth Equity Collaborative.

    Thank you for your time.

  • Dr. Joia Crear-Perry:

    Thank you so much. It's been my pleasure.

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