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First COVID-related death in a pregnant San Diegan reported

COVID-19 vaccine supplies are pictured at the Grossmont vaccination site in La Mesa, March 1, 2021.
KPBS Staff
COVID-19 vaccine supplies are pictured at the Grossmont vaccination site in La Mesa, March 1, 2021.

An unvaccinated woman who died earlier this week was the first pregnant San Diego person to die from COVID-19, the county Health and Human Services Agency announced Friday.

The woman died this week after being hospitalized, as did her unborn child. Her age and other details about her death and pregnancy were not being reported to protect her family's privacy.

"This is a very unfortunate death, and our sincere condolences go out to the family and friends of the deceased," said Dr. Seema Shah, medical director of HHSA's Epidemiology and Immunization Services branch. "Contracting COVID-19 during pregnancy puts you at greater risk of having serious complications and death.

"We urge anyone who is pregnant and unvaccinated to get immunized to protect themselves and their babies," Shah said.

Dr. Joanna Adamczak, a maternal-fetal specialist and chief medical officer of Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns, called the news "heartbreaking and tragic," and echoed the medical advice.

"We, as health care providers, urgently encourage anyone who is pregnant, or plans to get pregnant, to get the vaccine. It provides important protection for both mom and baby."

On Wednesday, the HHSA issued a health alert to the local medical community alerting them of an increase in cases and hospitalizations of unvaccinated pregnant women, and encouraging them to urge their patients to get vaccinated.

From June 1 through Sept. 30, there have been 253 laboratory-confirmed cases among pregnant women, including 203 among those not fully vaccinated - - compared to 50 who were fully vaccinated. Of the 253, a total of 31 required hospitalization; 30 of those hospitalized were not fully vaccinated.

"Not fully vaccinated" is defined as being unvaccinated or having received only a single dose of Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines. "Fully vaccinated" is defined as being 14 days removed from the second dose of Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

In late September, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health advisory strongly recommending that people get vaccinated against COVID-19 either before, during or after pregnancy "including those who are breast-feeding" because the benefits of vaccination outweigh known and potential risks.

According to the CDC, pregnant women who contract and develop symptoms from COVID-19 "have a two-fold risk of admission into intensive care and a 70% increased risk of death."

There are more than 400 locations where San Diegans can get vaccinated against COVID-19. They include doctors' offices, retail pharmacies, community clinics and county public health centers.

More than 4.82 million COVID vaccine doses have been administered in San Diego County, with 2.48 million people — or 88.7% of eligible county residents — having received at least one dose. Fully vaccinated county residents number more than 2.23 million, or around 79.4% of the county's eligible population in reports released Wednesday.

San Diego County reported 415 new cases of COVID-19 and seven virus- related deaths Thursday, as the public health community prepares for the double threat of coronavirus and influenza.

This year's flu season is likely to be a more typical one — rather than the almost nonexistent season seen last year during the height of COVID-19 mask-wearing and social distancing.

A report from the county released this week found 167 influenza cases have been recorded so far in the community, well above the prior three-year average of 102 cases at the same time. Last year, only five flu cases had been reported at this point. This week's figure puts the current flu season more in line with busier seasons recorded in 2017-18 and 2019-20.

Meanwhile, Thursday's COVID numbers brought the county's cumulative totals to 359,883 cases and 4,111 deaths since the pandemic began.

The number of COVID patients in county hospitals decreased from 327 on Wednesday to 310 Thursday, with 88 of those patients in intensive care, according to state figures.

A total of 20,995 tests were reported to the county, and the percentage of new positive cases over the last week is 2.9%.