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More Pregnant Women Seeking Treatment for COVID-19 in Hawaiʻi

Virus Outbreak-Pregnant Women
Charles Krupa/AP
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged all pregnant women Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021, to get the COVID-19 vaccine as hospitals in hot spots around the U.S. see disturbingly high numbers of unvaccinated mothers-to-be seriously ill with the virus. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

More pregnant women are seeking treatment for COVID-19 in Hawaiʻi than at any other point in the pandemic as the delta variant causes cases to surge.

Dr. Men-Jean Lee is the Chief of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at University Health Partners of Hawaiʻi. She’s coordinating care for pregnant women with COVID-19 at Kapiʻolani, Straub, and Queen's medical centers on Oʻahu.

Before the delta variant, Lee said their facilities would treat one expectant mother with COVID-19 every few days. Now, they are seeing close to 10 mothers-to-be in a week who need care.

"These are all young healthy people that were not vaccinated, and that’s what alarms us the most," she said.

Though the state Department of Health and the vaccination centers are not tracking pregnancy as one of their criteria, Lee said, "I saw about 30 patients in my office this morning, and only two were vaccinated — so we're estimating in Hawaiʻi, probably less than 10% of pregnant women have been vaccinated."

New figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that in the U.S., only 23% of pregnant women have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

"One of our big calls for help right now is to encourage as many pregnant women as possible to get their vaccines so that they can protect themselves and their babies from getting infected and needing to come into the hospital for extra care. This also helps the other women who are experiencing a normal pregnancy to still have access to hospital services and have their babies delivered in a safe environment," Lee said.

The CDC is also doubling down on its recommendation that people who are pregnant get the COVID-19 vaccine following new data underscoring its safety and effectiveness throughout pregnancy.

"COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for all people 12 years and older, including people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to get pregnant now or might become pregnant in the future," the CDC said.

According to the agency, concerns among some people that the messenger RNA vaccines might increase the risk of miscarriage when given early in a pregnancy, are not borne out by the data. Officials say miscarriage rates after the vaccine were similar to the expected rate of miscarriage in any group of pregnant people. The vaccine is also safe later in a pregnancy and while breastfeeding, the agency's new analysis indicates.

Lee echoed those findings, adding, "What I've been telling all our patients that are just coming in today to get their regular ultrasounds is that if you're not going to do it for yourself, please do it for your baby."

She said the placenta prevents any of the mRNA from getting to the baby, so pregnant women do not have to worry that the baby is getting the vaccine directly — the placenta is protecting the baby.

"However, what's really great about the vaccine is that if the mother is making antibodies against the COVID virus, the antibodies cross the placenta and that can protect the baby — and the antibodies are being secreted into mom's breast milk," she told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

This interview with Dr. Men-Jean Lee aired on The Conversation on Aug. 12, 2021.

Savannah Harriman-Pote is a producer for The Conversation and Manu Minute. Contact her at
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