PHENIX CITY, Alabama (AP) – Sometimes when she’s feeding her young daughter, Amanda Harrison is overwhelmed with emotion and has to wipe away tears of gratitude. You are lucky to be here holding your baby.
Harrison was 29 weeks pregnant and unvaccinated when she fell ill with COVID-19 in August. His symptoms were mild at first, but he suddenly felt like he couldn’t breathe. Living in Phenix City, Alabama, she was intubated and flown to a hospital in Birmingham, where doctors delivered baby Lake two months earlier and put Harrison on life support.
Kyndal Nipper, who hails from outside Columbus, Georgia, had only a brief fight with COVID-19 but a more tragic outcome. She was weeks away from giving birth in July when she lost her baby boy, a boy, and she and her husband planned to call Jack.
Now Harrison and Nipper are sharing their stories in an attempt to persuade pregnant women to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect themselves and their babies. His warnings come amid a sharp increase in seriously ill pregnant women, leading to the death of 22 pregnant women from COVID in August, a record for a month.
“We are committed to doing everything in our power to educate and advocate for our son because no other family should have to go through this,” Kipper said of her and her husband.
Harrison said he will “kindly argue to the bitter end” that pregnant women get vaccinated “because it could literally save your life.”
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Since the pandemic began, health officials have reported more than 125,000 cases and at least 161 deaths of pregnant women from COVID-19 in the US, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And over the past few months, hospitals and doctors in virus hot spots have reported a sharp increase in the number of seriously ill pregnant women.
With only 31% of pregnant women nationwide vaccinated, the CDC issued an urgent advisory on September 29 recommending they get vaccinated. The agency warned that COVID-19 in pregnancy can cause preterm delivery and other adverse outcomes and that stillbirths have been reported.
Dr. Akila Subramaniam, assistant professor in the division of maternal-fetal medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said the hospital saw a marked increase in the number of seriously ill pregnant women during July and August. She said a study found that the delta variant of COVID-19 is associated with higher rates of severe illness in pregnant women and higher rates of preterm birth.
“Is it because the delta variant is simply more infectious, or is it because the delta is more severe? I don’t think we know the answer to that, ”Subramaniam said.
When COVID-19 vaccines became available to pregnant women in their states this spring, both Harrison, 36, and Nipper, 29, decided to wait. The injections did not have final approval from the Food and Drug Administration, and pregnant women were not included in the studies that led to emergency authorization, so the initial guidance did not fully recommend vaccination for them. Pfizer’s injections received formal approval in August.
The women live on opposite sides of the Alabama-Georgia line, an area that was hit hard by the delta bypass this summer.
While Harrison had to receive life support, Nipper’s symptoms were more subtle. When she was eight months pregnant, she lost her sense of smell and developed a fever. The symptoms disappeared quickly, but Jack didn’t seem to kick as much as before. He tried drinking a caffeinated drink: nothing. He went to the hospital in Columbus, Georgia, for fetal monitoring, where medical staff broke the news: Baby Jack was gone.
“It was supposed to come into the world in three weeks or less,” Nipper said. “And to be told that there are no beats and there is no movement …”
Nipper’s doctor, Timothy Villegas, said tests showed that the placenta itself was infected with the virus and showed patterns of inflammation similar to the lungs of people who died from COVID-19.
The infection likely caused the baby’s death by affecting its ability to obtain oxygen and nutrients, Villegas said. The doctor said he has since learned of similar cases from other doctors.
“We are at that point where everyone is starting to raise some red flags,” he said.
In western Alabama, Dr. Cheree Melton, a family medicine physician who specializes in obstetrics and teaches at the University of Alabama, said she and her colleagues have had about a half dozen unvaccinated patients infected with COVID-19. who have lost their unborn children due to miscarriages. or stillbirth, a problem made worse by delta spread.
“It is absolutely heartbreaking to tell a mother that she will never be able to hold her child alive,” he said. “We have had to do that very often, more than I remember doing in the last few years.”
Melton said she encourages all unvaccinated pregnant women she treats to get vaccinated, but many have not. He said rumors and misinformation have been a problem.
“I get everything from ‘Well, someone told me I might be infertile in the future’ to ‘It could harm my baby,’” she said.
Nipper said he wishes he had asked more questions about the vaccine. “Looking back, I know I did everything I could have done to give him a healthy life,” he said. “The only thing I did not do, and I will have to take it with me, is that I did not receive the vaccine.”
Now home from the hospital with a healthy baby, Harrison says he feels deep gratitude, tempered by the survivor’s guilt.
“I cry all the time. Just little things. Feeding her or hugging my 4-year-old. Just the thought that they have to go through life without me and that’s the reality of a lot of people right now,” Harrison said. “It was. very scary and everything could have been prevented if I had been vaccinated. “