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Hawaii has first confirmed maternal death due to COVID-19

Hawaii has had its first confirmed, maternal death due to COVID-19, according to the chair of a committee that tracks them for the state.

Dr. Stacy Tsai, chair of the Hawaii State Maternal Mortality Review Committee, confirmed the first maternal death in the state due to COVID-19. A maternal death usually means the mother died during pregnancy or after giving birth.

Tsai could not share specific details of the case due to medical privacy, but confirmed it was recent and that the patient suffered from a very severe disease due to COVID. Her baby, however, survived.

Any maternal death is devastating, she said, with impacts for the entire family and community.

“Everybody knows it means more than just a death, including the children who are now not going to have a mother,” she said. “A lot of the times. the mothers are primary caretakers of either the children in the household or the elderly, so it’s devastating for the whole family when the mother dies.”

Due to the highly contagious delta variant, Tsai said she is seeing more expecting mothers with COVID-19 at the hospital.

“I’ve been working on the front lines, taking care of COVID patients who are pregnant from the beginning,” she said, “and this is much worse compared to the original strain. With the delta variant, our pregnant moms are getting much sicker when they catch the infection.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pregnant and recently pregnant women are at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 than women who are not. Additionally, pregnant women with COVID are at a higher risk for preterm birth.

“Pregnant women have higher rates of being admitted to the ICU, higher rates of having to go on a ventilator, and higher rates of death, so being pregnant increases your risk of severe disease,” said Tsai.

Fewer pregnant women are getting vaccinated, however, with only about 25% ages 18 to 49 nationwide having received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine as of Sept. 4, according to CDC data.

The Hawaii Department of Health does not have a breakdown of how many fully vaccinated residents are pregnant.

Hawaii Pacific Health, which runs Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children, confirmed an increase in unvaccinated, pregnant women with COVID being hospitalized and having to deliver prematurely.

Tsai, a high-risk maternal physician, recommends that her patients get vaccinated against COVID-19 to prevent severe disease.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also recommends that all pregnant women or women planning to get pregnant get vaccinated against COVID-19, saying a growing amount of data confirms they are safe during pregnancy, and that there is no evidence the vaccines cause infertility.

Answers to frequently answered questions from ACOG are available at this link.

The committee, made up of 22 members, reviews cases of maternal death in the state.

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