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Pregnancy-related deaths have surged as much as 40% during the pandemic, with the increase entirely linked to COVID-19, according to a pair of new reports. The rise in deaths was most pronounced among Black mothers.
In 2021, 1,205 women died from pregnancy-related causes, making the year one of the worst for maternal mortality in U.S. history, according to newly released CDC data. Maternal mortality is defined as occurring during pregnancy, at delivery, or soon after delivery.
COVID was the driver of the increased death rate, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. The researchers noted that unvaccinated pregnant people are more likely to get severe COVID, and that prenatal and postnatal care were disrupted during the early part of the pandemic. From July 2021 to March 2023, the rate of women being vaccinated before pregnancy has risen from 22% to 70%, CDC data shows.
Maternal mortality rates jumped the most among Black women, who in 2021 had a maternal mortality rate of nearly 70 deaths per 100,000 live births, which was 2.6 times the rate for white women.
Existing risks based on a mother’s age also increased from 2020 to 2021. The maternal mortality rates by age in 2021 per 100,000 live births were:
20.4 for women under age 25
31.3 for women ages 25 to 39
138.5 for women ages 40 and older.
The head of the professional organization for gynecologists called the situation “stunning” and “preventable.”
The findings “send a resounding message that maternal health and evidence-based efforts to eliminate racial health inequities need to be, and remain, a top public health priority,” Iffath Abbasi Hoskins, MD, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in a statement.
“The COVID-19 pandemic had a dramatic and tragic effect on maternal death rates, but we cannot let that fact obscure that there was — and still is — already a maternal mortality crisis to compound,” she said.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “ACOG Statement on NCHS Maternal Mortality Data.”
CDC: “Maternal Mortality Rates in the United States, 2021,” “COVID-19 vaccination among pregnant people aged 18-49 years overall, by race and ethnicity, and date reported to CDC – Vaccine Safety Datalink, United States.”
Obstetrics & Gynecology: “Changes in Pregnancy-Related Mortality Associated With the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic in the United States.”