Doctors at Austin hospitals are encouraging pregnant individuals to get vaccinated for COVID-19 and to seek monoclonal antibody treatment if they contract the virus.

Since pregnant people are considered at higher risk for developing severe complications from COVID-19, they should prioritize getting vaccinated against the virus, Dr. Alison Cahill, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist for Ascension Seton and a professor in the Dell Medical School Department of Women's Health, told Community Impact Newspaper on Sept. 13.

"Pregnant folks are at increased risk to have bad COVID," Cahill said. "I go to work every day and take care of very, very sick patients who are in the hospital, and they're pregnant."

Cahill and colleagues from other area hospitals announced in early August that the delta variant affects pregnant women more severely than the original strain of COVID-19, and send more of them to the hospital and intensive care units. That makes the decision to vaccinate more important than ever, Cahill said. However, she said misinformation has promoted the concern that coronavirus vaccines may affect women's fertility and caused some pregnant individuals to hold off on vaccination, although there is no evidence to suggest the vaccines have any negative effect on future fertility.

"There's literally no scientific evidence to support that," she said.

Whether or not they have been vaccinated, Cahill urged pregnant women who do contract COVID-19 or have been exposed to the virus to immediately reach out to their obstetric provider to discuss the possibility of receiving monoclonal antibodies, a treatment that can lessen the severity of a COVID-19 infection by blocking the virus's ability to attach to human cells, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Several monoclonal antibody therapies have been given emergency use authorization by the FDA for treating COVID-19, but monoclonal antibodies have also been used for other conditions, including autoimmune diseases and cancer, for decades.

Austin-area residents can seek monoclonal antibody treatment at Travis County's Regional COVID-19 Therapeutic Infusion Center with a referral from their health care provider. The treatment is typically reserved for high-risk coronavirus patients or patients who have had a high-risk exposure, designations a health care provider can determine.

"You should rely on us to do that legwork for you and figure out what your symptoms are, what your other risk factors are and the strength with which we would recommend this therapy," Cahill said.