CHICAGO — We know that people who are pregnant have an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. That could mean hospitalization, intensive care, a ventilator, and a 60% increase in the chances of premature birth. Yet, vaccination rates among expectant mothers are among the lowest in any group in the U.S.
Kntrice Anadumaka was one of them. Before she got pregnant during the pandemic, she was hesitant about the newly authorized COVID vaccines.
“I'm a later in life parent, and we heard rumors that the vaccine could affect fertility and we didn't want to risk that,” said Anadumaka.
Despite being careful and maintaining a close social bubble, Anadumaka was exposed to the virus seven months into her pregnancy. She became sick and had to be hospitalized.
“It was the absolute worst experience of my life,” she said. “When you can't breathe, all I'm thinking is, 'Is he getting enough oxygen? How is that impacting the placenta?'”
During her eight weeks in the intensive care unit, she got pneumonia. A CT scan revealed 75% damage to her lungs.
“I was literally counting the breaths. Literally, my whole body was struggling to breathe, and I told the doctors, ‘Save my baby, intubate me. I'm done. I'm tired.'”
But she battled through, one breath at a time for her baby.
“We almost didn't make it. They literally had a conversation with my mother and my husband and said, ‘If something happens, who do you want to save? Do you want us to save the baby or do you want us to save her?’ And they had to choose me, which means they couldn’t choose him,” said Anadumaka.
It’s an unthinkable position for any mother to be in. But Dr. Priya Rajan, an associate professor in maternal fetal medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, says it’s a position many unvaccinated pregnant women with COVID are finding themselves in.
“These women go to the ICU at three times higher rate than the general population. Their need for oxygen supplementation is three times higher,” said Rajan.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doubled down on its recommendation that expectant mothers get the COVID-19 vaccine, citing new data affirming its safety and effectiveness.
“A lot of these safety concerns that people had in terms of risk for miscarriage, birth defects, early delivery with receipt of vaccine have not borne out,” said Rajan.
Still, according to the CDC’s most recent data, an estimated 77% of pregnant women remain unvaccinated against COVID-19.
In Florida, Kristin McMullen, sick with COVID-19 only held her newborn for moments before being whisked away to the ICU. She died days later.
Greyzie Miller, 31, lost her life to the virus shortly after giving birth to a baby girl.
Neither woman was vaccinated.
“That baby will never know their mom. I couldn't imagine life without him and him without me," said Anadumaka.
Anadumaka is now on the mend. She says she’s fortunate to have survived the ordeal and hopes more pregnant women will get vaccinated after hearing her story.
“I wish I had had more information. You know, that's the thing. If I had been armed with more information, I could have made an informed decision about the health for me and the health of my baby and the exposure to my family,” said Anadumaka.
She got her first shot in her eighth month while still on oxygen and in the hospital.
“It's worth it to get vaccinated. I'd rather take my chances with the vaccination, than fare out here without it, because I've been without it and it's not worth it," she said.