▶ Watch Video: COVID poses high risks for pregnant women, study shows

Pregnant women who contract COVID-19 are more likely to have a severe infection, be hospitalized and need a ventilator, experts say. But as of last month, only 23% have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine during pregnancy, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

“We need to impress upon women how serious COVID infection in pregnancy could be,” said Dr. Laura Riley, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

“Pregnant women hear a chorus of, ‘Don’t eat that, don’t take that, don’t put anything into your body.’ And so, the natural reaction is, ‘Oh maybe I shouldn’t.’ But here we’re saying, this is a prevention that is going to save you, potentially from something far worse,” Riley added. 

A new study from the University of California, San Francisco found pregnant women infected with COVID-19 are at a significantly higher risk for pre-term birth.

“These are babies who are going to stay in the hospital longer, who may go through their lives with many more difficulties,” said Laura Jelliffe-Pawlowski, a professor who is part of the California Preterm Birth Initiative at the University of California, San Francisco.

One reason for the hesitancy could be that the CDC was slow to recommend the COVID vaccine for pregnant women due to the lack of data. Pregnant women were not included in initial COVID vaccine trials. Last week, the agency began urging pregnant women to get the vaccine, citing new safety data.

“Scientists did not find an increased risk for miscarriage” among people who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines before 20 weeks of pregnancy, the CDC said. It also said available data showed no additional risk to people vaccinated later in pregnancy or to their babies. 

Zara Zuckerman was among those hesitant to get the vaccine while pregnant with her daughter, Sophie, who is now four months old. But she said was more concerned about getting COVID-19. “Pregnancy is scary but this is something that can make it less scary,” Zuckerman said. “This is protecting you and protecting your unborn baby.”

Zuckerman said she feels relieved after getting vaccinated. “I felt instantly like we had made the right decision like I was starting on my journey to protect myself and protect my kid,” she said.