In a recent alarming trend, the U.S. witnessed its first significant rise in infant mortality rates in two decades, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported. The year 2022 marked this concerning increase, sparking widespread speculation and misinformation.
Contrary to viral claims, there is no scientific correlation between this spike and COVID-19 vaccinations. In fact, experts are looking at more grounded causes like the lack of accessible, affordable healthcare as pivotal factors in this trend.
A Facebook post from November 1, 2023, exemplifies the misinformation clouding public perception. It questions the safety of COVID-19 vaccines for pregnant women, correlating them with the increased infant mortality rates.
These misconceptions spread rapidly across other platforms like Instagram and X, citing mainstream media headlines about vaccination advisories for pregnant individuals to appear credible, but mistakenly or deliberately linking them to the rise in infant deaths in a deceitful manner (Figure 1).
The CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) reported an infant mortality rate of 5.60 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2022. This statistic includes infants who do not survive their first year, reflecting a 3% increase from 2021.
Dr. Sandy Chung, president of American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), highlighted various potential reasons for this uptick. She discussed challenges like poverty, inadequate nutrition, and the unavailability of affordable healthcare, which disproportionately affect families from racial and ethnic minorities. These factors contribute to lower birth weights and, in some cases, infant mortality.
The NCHS data reveals that out of the total infant deaths in 2022, 1,300 were due to accidents or unintentional injuries. Notably, there were significant increases in deaths caused by maternal complications and bacterial sepsis in newborns.
The CDC also emphasized that: "Scientific studies to date have shown no safety concerns for babies born to people who were vaccinated against COVID-19 during pregnancy."
The CDC, alongside the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, continues to recommend Covid-19 vaccination for pregnant and breastfeeding individuals. This corroborates other health organizations globally, including Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Australia, all of which have faced similar false narratives about vaccination during pregnancy.
While there's no evidence linking vaccines to adverse pregnancy outcomes, studies do indicate risks associated with Covid-19 infection. Specifically, COVID-19 infection can lead to preterm births and stillbirths, with babies born to infected patients more likely to need neonatal care. Research also suggests a potential increase in miscarriage risk due to COVID-19.
In summary, the recent increase in the US infant mortality rate is a complex issue, influenced by socio-economic and healthcare factors, rather than Covid-19 vaccinations, contrary to the circulating misinformation.