Pregnant women appear to be at higher risk of infection by COVID-19, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The study shows that the infection rate among expectant women in Washington state was 70 percent higher than in similarly aged adults in the state, EurekAlert reported.

It also found that infection rates among pregnant women of color were two to four times higher than expected. 

“Pregnant women were not protected from COVID-19 in the early months of the pandemic, with the greatest burden of infections occurring in nearly all racial/ethnic minority groups,” the researchers wrote.

The study followed 240 pregnant women with COVID-19 in 35 hospitals and clinics from March through June 2020. 

Dr. Kristina Adams Waldorf, an OB-GYN at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said the study provides more evidence that pregnancy should be considered a high-risk health condition for vaccine priority.

“Our data indicates that pregnant people did not avoid the pandemic as we hoped that they would, and communities of color bore the greatest burden,” Waldorf said.

The study found that pregnant women who were infected had a 3.5 times higher COVID-associated hospitalization rate than the similarly aged general population in Washington state.

Also, the COVID mortality rates were 13 times higher in pregnant mothers than in similarly aged individuals.

“The mortality rate was shockingly high. We were very surprised by this,” Waldorf said.

“We are gravely concerned that COVID-19-associated maternal deaths have been massively undercounted nationally and that the impact on pregnant patients, particularly with underlying conditions, is greater than currently underappreciated,” she added. 

The research also found that most of the pregnant women with COVID-19 had asymptomatic or mild cases and healthy pregnancies.  

Of the 240 pregnant women with infections detected through June, three died from COVID-19, while 24 others were hospitalized.

The three who died were from minority ethnic groups and most of them had other conditions such as obesity and hypertension, according to the study.

“Higher infection rates in pregnant patients may be due to the overrepresentation of women in many professions and industries considered essential during the COVID-19 pandemic – including healthcare, education, service sectors,” Dr. Erica Lokken, the lead author, said in a statement.

On Thursday, Pfizer/BioNTech announced the start of its clinical trial to evaluate the vaccine in pregnant women, according to USA Today.

The trial will enroll about 4,000 healthy pregnant women over 18 years old in North America, South America, Europe and Africa.

“It is time to take the next step and extend our clinical program to other vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women, to potentially protect both them and future generations,” said Dr. Özlem Türeci, chief medical officer of BioNTech, according to the outlet.

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