U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor is encouraging pregnant people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 amid low inoculation rates and heightened complications with the virus.
The Congresswoman hosted a virtual forum Thursday afternoon to promote the vaccine among pregnant Americans, hearing from Dr. Haywood Brown, former president of the American College of OBGYNs, to combat misinformation about pregnancy and the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We’ve seen so many tragic stories of pregnant women who were unvaccinated struggling with COVID-19, and a few tragic stories of deaths due to not being vaccinated,” Castor said. “We wanted to make sure that our neighbors here across the Tampa Bay area had the best, up to date information from local experts.”
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider the vaccine safe for people who are pregnant, wishing to be pregnant or breastfeeding, only 31% of pregnant Americans have received the shot. Much of the hesitancy from receiving the vaccine stems from misinformation about adverse affects, like miscarriages and infertility.
He shared an anecdote about a pregnant physician at Tampa General Hospital who received the vaccine and promoted the safety of the vaccine to other pregnant women via TikTok.
“Leading by example does work. Our message cannot be stronger and clearer: Please get vaccinated, We have to really overcome the myths about infertility and miscarriage,” Brown said. “Accurate messaging is the key. We are the professionals, and it’s how we deliver that message. We are the best source of accurate information.”
Brown, who also serves as the vice dean of Faculty Affairs at the University of South Florida College of Medicine, stressed the heightened risk pregnant people have in contracting the virus.
Cases of COVID-19 in symptomatic pregnant people have a two-fold risk of admission into intensive care and a 70% increased risk of death, he said. Pregnant people with COVID-19 are also at increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes that could include preterm birth, stillbirth and admission into the ICU of a newborn also infected with COVID-19.
“We’ve got to message about this, we cannot wait. We have to be much more aggressive,” Brown said, adding that the vaccine helps strengthen the baby’s immunity to the virus when a mother receives a vaccination.
By the end of September, there had been more than 125,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in pregnant people including more than 22,000 hospitalized and 161 deaths — 22 deaths that occurred in the month of August alone.
Castor also emphasized the disparity among minority populations in vaccine rates, hoping to close the gap. Currently, COVID-19 vaccinations are highest among pregnant Asian-Americans at 45.7%, lower among Hispanic or Latino pregnant people at 25% and lowest among Black pregnant people at 15.6%.
“Florida is so diverse, we really need to be mindful of the disparities that are out there,” Castor said. “We have a long way to go. …This is serious, and we want all of our neighbors to have the best information possible, and to get vaccinated, after talking with their doctor.”