After U.S. pregnancy deaths soared in 2021, they are on track to drop to pre-pandemic levels in 2022, a new government report shows.
While the decline from more than 1,200 pregnancy deaths in 2021 to 733 deaths in 2022 is positive news, experts said it's still not enough when pregnancy deaths were already at high levels before COVID-19 emerged.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released final numbers for 2021 on Thursday; the 2022 figure is likely to grow because those numbers are still preliminary.
What happened “isn't that hard to explain,” Eugene Declercq, a longtime maternal mortality researcher at Boston University, told the Associated Press. “The surge was COVID-related.”
About one-quarter of maternal deaths for both 2020 and 2021 were related to COVID-19, according to earlier government analyses.
Pregnancy already strains a woman's body and “COVID is going to make all that much worse,” Dr. Elizabeth Cherot, chief medical and health officer for the March of Dimes, told the AP.
A study published recently in the journal BMJ Global Health found that pregnant women infected with COVID-19 were nearly eight times as likely to die as those without it. Leading causes of death in pregnant women tend to be excessive bleeding, blood vessel blockages and infections.
Pregnancy death tallies include women who died while pregnant, in childbirth or up to 42 days after birth.
Vaccination rates were also low in 2021 among pregnant women, especially Black women. The CDC did not fully recommend shots for pregnant women until August 2021, the AP reported.
“Initially there was a lot of mistrust of the vaccine in Black communities,” Samantha Griffin, who owns a doula service that mainly serves Black families in the Washington, D.C., area, told the AP.
Pregnant Black women had a death rate that was nearly three times higher in 2021 than white women did. Hispanic American women had a maternal death rate that rose by 54% in 2020.
The experts also pointed to doctor burnout and less in-person time with patients as a possible cause of increased maternal deaths in 2021.
Providers “were needing to make snap decisions and maybe not listening to their patients as much,” Griffin told the AP. “Women were saying that they thought something was wrong and they weren't being heard.”
The World Health Organization has more on maternal mortality.
SOURCE: Associated Press