Latina women made up the majority of people hospitalized with COVID while pregnant this past year, according to a Virginia Department of Health report on Monday.
Of the 3,155 women identified in the state's disease surveillance system who tested positive and were pregnant as of March 10, 2021, nearly a third were Latino - a population that accounts for barely a tenth of Virginia's residents.
Findings released in June from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed Black and Hispanic pregnant people also had the lowest vaccination rates, which the federal agency said could be addressed through more targeted outreach and access and more safety data.
Pregnant women were excluded from the initial trials but are eligible for all three available vaccines. The risk from COVID is considerably higher. Earlier in September, CDC data showed that 43% of hospitalized pregnant patients were Latino. The majority completed their pregnancy, but nearly a quarter of those who were symptomatic gave birth prematurely compared to 8% of asymptomatic patients.
Ten people, about 2%, lost their child.
While the VDH study doesn't outline specifics on pregnancy outcomes, it's the most extensive insight into the coronavirus risk among pregnant Virginians thus far, with findings mirroring national patterns showing the extent to which prior health disparities worsened the pandemic's weight on Latino communities.
In a September analysis of positive pregnant patients in Texas, Hispanic pregnant patients were the most likely to test positive and be on public insurance. The VDH release noted 1 in 4 pregnant Latina women with COVID did not have stable housing.
Factors such as these were linked to why life expectancy for Latinos fell by almost four years in 2020, with Hispanic women facing a decline 23 times greater than women in similarly developed nations.
Immigrant women continually faced the highest rates of unemployment this past year, and by the end of November, data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that more than a third of Virginia's Latino adults in households with children were uninsured. AND
Pregnant Latina and Black Virginians with pre-existing conditions - such as chronic lung disease, diabetes, hypertension or obesity - were hospitalized at 2.4 times the rate of their white counterparts. But whites accounted for the greatest share of patients of these chronic conditions.
This is a limitation in the VDH study, said Dr. Priya Pattath, research coordinator and analyst at VDH's Office of Health Equity. Of the 60 pregnant people who were hospitalized and did not have a preexisting condition reported, 50 were Latina or Black, pointing toward an ongoing issue surrounding complete race and ethnicity data.
Medical conditions were also self-reported and not verified through patient medical records. Occupation was not listed in the dataset, a critical indicator to COVID risk as many essential workers on the frontlines were women, immigrants, Black or Latino, according to the Commonwealth Institute.
"Understanding the full spectrum of maternal and neonatal outcomes and health disparities associated with COVID-19 in pregnancy is important as studies have found that racial and ethnic minority pregnant women bear a disproportionate burden," said Pattath "Among risk factors, social determinants of health, like household crowding, occupations in essential services, and barriers to care may be potential underlying causes."
Other concerning results from the VDH study were how although fewer than 7% of the total that required hospitalization, three in four of all pregnant people who got sick were between the ages of 20 and 34 - the least vaccinated age groups outside of 12-to-15-year-olds who weren't eligible before May.
The 20-to-39 age groups also account for more than a third of Virginia's infections caused by variants, which are more transmissible strains of the initial coronavirus, according to the VDH. A Friday update from the University of Virginia's Biocomplexity Institute, which has tracked COVID trends statewide, reported how delta variant - currently the most severe strain causing COVID surges across the country - will "cause COVID surges in areas with low vaccination."
The report added that even in highly vaccinated areas, outbreaks among unvaccinated residents are likely to occur. More than 45% of infected pregnant people in the study resided in Northern Virginia, which houses the state's largest Hispanic populations and the most vaccinated localities.