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Pregnant ER doctor explains why she got COVID-19 booster as CDC says Delta variant poses high risk

Dr. Anh Nguyen and her family. (Courtesy of Anh Nguyen)
Dr. Anh Nguyen and her family. (Courtesy of Anh Nguyen)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention isurging pregnant peopleto get vaccinated against COVID-19.

A new study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology shows that the Delta variant results inworse outcomesfor them and their babies than prior versions of the virus — with up to 15% of pregnant people who catch the virus ending up hospitalized.

The CDC head says vaccines are “extraordinarily” safe for pregnant women. But so far, a little less than athird of pregnant peopleare vaccinated in the U.S. 

Among those who did get vaccinated is emergency room Dr.Anh Nguyen, who treats patients at Houston Methodist Hospital. She also received a booster shot.

Nguyen says when she weighed the risks and the benefits of the vaccine, it was “abundantly clear” that she should take the shot.

“I see COVID patients daily,” she says. “And I’ve read and seen so many cases of pregnant women, especially in the third trimester, getting horrifically ill with the virus.”

At first, Nguyen felt hesitant because pregnant people were excluded from the vaccine trials. But as more pregnant people got the shot over the past several monthsand self-reported their symptoms and side effects using the CDC’s v-safe program, the data shows the vaccine is safe for this group, she says.

“I have not read of any cases where the vaccine itself has caused stillbirth, premature labor, moms getting intubated or going to the ICU,” she says. “But on the other hand … I’ve seen plenty of maternal deaths, stillbirths, child deaths, so I just don’t think it’s anything that you can compare.”

Pregnant people with COVID-19 express “significant regret” about not doing more to protect their child, she says.

After her second shot, Nguyen felt chills and some body aches. And after she took the booster shot at 34 weeks pregnant, the fatigue hit her “like a hammer,” she says.

Studies have shown that pregnant people pass antibodies on to their baby, she says. For Nguyen, giving her baby passive immunity is an added bonus.

At the hospital, Nguyen says she’s seen stillbirths, emergency deliveries and third-trimester moms getting intubated because of COVID-19.

“I just know I did not want that to be me,” she says.

Many pregnant people say that they plan to stay home and try to avoid the virus — but Nguyen says that’s not possible at this point in the pandemic.

“With Delta surging, it’s so contagious and so deadly that I don’t think that you can really sequester yourself at this point and make yourself zero risk,” she says.

In August, 22 pregnant people died of COVID-19 in the U.S., the highest monthly number since the start of the pandemic. And the number of cases among pregnant people also doubled from 500 to 1,000 a week from June through August. 

Nguyen shares her experience with patients and tries to lead by example. At 35 weeks pregnant, she says patients see her belly and identify with her decision to get the shot. 

“I try to approach it in a non-judgmental fashion,” she says, “and that maybe gives them a little bit of confidence that I’m not trying to persuade them to do something that I myself wouldn’t do.”

Houston Methodist Hospital saw its highest COVID-19 numbers ever in August and September, Nguyen says.

Among those patients, pregnant people face the same added struggles in fighting the virus as smokers and diabetics, she says. The pregnant patients she sees, especially those in their third trimester, get very sick with the virus.

“Pregnancy is such a stressful time for your body as it is. You’re immunocompromised. When you get to your third trimester, your lung function is decreased,” she says. “You just can’t fight the bug that well.”


Karyn Miller-Medzon produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.