Miss. — Mississippi state health leaders are providing more information about trends they’re noticing, including pregnant women dying from COVID-19 at an alarming rate along with the state now ranking first in COVID deaths per capita.

“In recent weeks, throughout the course of the pandemic we have lost of 15 moms to COVID 19 during the pregnancy,” said Dr. Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi state health officer.

Since the end of July, eight mothers have died. Sixty percent of them were African American. None of them were fully vaccinated, which Dobbs says underscores the importance of vaccines.

“So, to protect the moms and also protect our babies, we need to, you know, prevent COVID infection. We need to look at getting the antibodies if pregnant women get COVID because it is absolutely indicated, as is the COVID vaccine for any part of pregnancy,” Dobbs said.

Mississippi also now has the highest COVID death rate in the U.S. Health leaders say that trend has everything to do with the increase in cases. In August more than 94,000 people tested positive for the virus in Mississippi.

“With that overwhelming number of cases that we’ve had in August, we really do anticipate that we’re going to be continuing to see high numbers of deaths, at least for the short term,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers.

Nearly 70 percent of the state’s deaths are among the white population. Previously, that trend favored those who are African American. Doctors say the change is likely due to minority communities taking the virus more seriously.

“The precautions taken are really very thoughtful,” Dobbs said. “A lot of Black churches are still on virtual. There’s still, there’s a broad embrace of masks as a protective mechanism. So, I think some of that is reflective in the good work that leaders in the Black community have done protect their folks.”

The state health department says they will continue to put out information and host events in hopes that it can change the mind of folks concerned about taking the vaccine.