Fetal deaths have doubled among unvaccinated pregnant women who suffer COVID-19 infections, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said during a Mississippi State Department of Health press conference today.

“We’ve identified 72 fetal deaths associated with pregnant moms who had COVID, which is twice the background rate of what we would’ve expected” prior to the pandemic, he said.

A “fetal death,” also known as a “stillbirth,” refers to deaths that occur after 20 weeks gestation. The statistic does not include miscarriages, which are deaths that occur at 20 weeks or earlier.

“My daughter has recently been pregnant, and we were grateful to have her deliver a healthy baby, but she was vaccinated during her pregnancy,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said today. “… I would encourage anybody out there who’s pregnant, if you have any questions about it, talk to your doctor, but we encourage you to please get vaccinated.”

State Reports First Infant Death

Dr. Dobbs revealed the statistic on fetal deaths hours after MSDH reported the state’s first known COVID-19 death involving an infant younger than 1 year old.

Today’s report of an infant death brings the number of Mississippians younger than 18 who have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began to seven, four of whom died in the last six weeks.

Mississippi’s overall pediatric death toll since the pandemic began in 2020 includes three children between the ages of 11 and 17, one child between 6 and 10 and two between 1 and 5, and the infant less than a year old reported today. MSDH does not release other identifying information on pediatric deaths, but Dr. Byers told the Crirec today that the department will consider releasing racial demographics on child COVID deaths.

“We can look at that, but it’s going to be important for us to do that in a way that does not compromise the family’s identity,” he said. “But we can look at trying to provide that data.”

COVID Killed 8 Pregnant Women in The Past Four Weeks

Mississippi health leaders said last week that multiple pregnant women died with COVID-19 at a single hospital in August, with health-care workers delivering babies by c-section shortly before their mothers’ deaths. Today, Dr. Dobbs said that MSDH is currently investigating eight deaths that occurred during the past four weeks.

The infants in those cases “were born premature but were alive,” Dr. Dobbs said today.

“But it’s still a tragic and difficult circumstance. When I checked yesterday, all those babies were alive and getting treatment in the neonatal intensive unit,” he said. “…The pediatric death we’re reporting is not related to a maternal death.”

The state health officer’s name is on the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which challenges Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that says women have the right to an abortion. The State of Mississippi, which currently outlaws abortions after 20 weeks gestation, is asking the court to overturn that precedent and allow a 15-week abortion ban to take effect.

Though Dr. Dobbs’ name appears on the case as a formality because he heads the state department in charge of enforcing health-care regulations, he is not involved in the litigation nor has he taken a side on the issue.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, Mississippi had the nation’s highest infant mortality rate and highest preterm birth rate. The state also has a higher maternal mortality rate than most of the country.

Award-winning News Editor Ashton Pittman, a native of the South Mississippi Pine Belt, studied journalism and political science at the University of Southern Mississippi. Previously the state reporter at the Jackson Free Press, he drove national headlines and conversations with award-winning reporting about segregation academies. He has won numerous awards, including Outstanding New Journalist in the South, for his work covering immigration raids, abortion battles and even former Gov. Phil Bryant’s unusual work with “The Bad Boys of Brexit" at the Jackson Free Press. In 2021, as a Crirec reporter, he was named the Diamond Journalist of the Year for seven southern U.S. states in the Society of Professional Journalists Diamond Awards. A trained photojournalist, Ashton lives in South Mississippi with his husband, William, and their two pit bulls, Dorothy and Dru. Follow on Twitter @ashtonpittman. Send tips to [email protected].