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New study shows devastating impact of severe COVID-19 infection on pregnant women and their babies

Published: 24 February 2022

New research by experts at the University of Oxford shows that severe COVID-19  infection in pregnant women, particularly in the third trimester, significantly increases the risk of harmful outcomes for mother and baby.

The study, which is jointly funded by The NIHR and health charity Wellbeing of Women, is based on data collected from the UK-wide Obstetric Surveillance System (UKOSS). 

Data shows that an estimated 1.1 million women gave birth between 1 March 2020 and 31 October 2021, and of these 4,436 pregnant women were admitted to hospital with confirmed Covid-19 infection. Two thirds (65%) of these women had mild Covid-19 infection, 21% had moderate infection, and 14% had severe infection. Over three quarters (77%) of women were in their third trimester. 

Pregnant women with severe COVID-19 infection were significantly more likely to give birth early, have an induction or a caesarean,  or have a baby that was stillborn or required admission to a neonatal intensive care unit.

Pregnant women over the age of 30 years, those of Black, Asian or other minority ethnicity and those who are obese or have health conditions, such as gestational diabetes and pre-existing hypertension were identified as being at greater risk of severe COVID-19 infection.

Reassuringly, the results show that vaccination protects pregnant women from severe illness and hospitalisation. But latest figures show only 6.8% of pregnant black women and 10.2% of pregnant women living in more deprived areas of England have had two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Marian Knight, Professor of Maternal and Child Population Health at The National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford, who led the study, said: “Most women give birth safely and have healthy babies, but sadly we know that pregnant women are at greater risk of developing severe COVID-19 infection, particularly in the third trimester. This can lead to tragic outcomes, including premature birth and stillbirth.

“While vaccination rates are increasing, it is extremely concerning that pregnant women who are at most risk of severe infection are among the communities least likely to be vaccinated before giving birth. Local community engagement with vulnerable groups of women should be an urgent priority to address concerns and give reassurance about the COVID-19 vaccine.”


The study was funded by the Health and Social Care Delivery Research (HSDR) Programme

Find out more about the study on the Funding & Awards website.


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