MONTREAL -- Hundreds of pregnant women in Quebec have contracted COVID-19 and doctors say they're worried because vaccination rates among that population appear to be low.

"I think pregnancy adds another layer of fear for women -- and uncertainty. They're trying to make the best decisions but there's a lot of misinformation out there and that's a big problem," explained Dr. Robbie Shear, director of obstetrics and gynecology at the Jewish General Hospital.

She said she spends a lot of time trying to convince women that getting COVID-19 is much more dangerous than any potential side effects from the vaccine.

"I speak to pregnant women all day long about getting vaccinated. I try my absolute best to convince them," she said. "Sometimes, I feel like I'm blowing hot air and repeating myself over and over."

Quebec's association of obstetrician-gynecologists (AOGQ) says it has so far identified at least 900 cases of COVID-19 in pregnant women.

"Public health hasn't released any data yet, but I think we can estimate about double that for the province as a whole," said Alix Chartrand, a spokesperson for the organization.

The Quebec Institute of Public Health (INSPQ) noted that as of Oct. 5, a total of 27,215 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been given to mothers-to-be since the start of the campaign.

That is, 15,556 first doses of a vaccine have been given to pregnant women and 11,645 second doses have been administered.

According to the Quebec Institute of Statistics, 81,850 babies were born in Quebec in 2020 and 84,300 were born in 2019.

Shear loosely estimates, based on the number of pregnant women she sees every day, that less than 50 per cent are vaccinated against the deadly disease.

"A lot of them tell me, 'I don't know, I feel so uncomfortable with it, it's new.' There are just a lot of comments like that," she said. "Some say, 'I had COVID-19 last year,' so they feel they don't need to get it [the vaccine] even though the recommendation is to get it."

ONE-SIDED FEAR

Shear emphasizes that there is a mountain of evidence that shows catching COVID-19 is much more dangerous for both mother and baby.

"Hospitalization, ICU admission, death and premature birth significantly increase for women who get COVID-19," she said. "We've seen that at the Jewish [General Hospital]. There have been no maternal deaths in Quebec, but numerous patients in the ICU."

Shear recalls treating an unvaccinated mother-to-be who was forced to deliver her baby via emergency Caesarean section at 30 weeks gestation (about seven months).

"Now, her baby is in the NICU in an incubator and all of this would have been prevented if she had been vaccinated," she said.

Shear noted many of the pregnant women she speaks to are more afraid of the vaccine, which has been scientifically proven to be safe, than of both COVID-19 and premature birth, which can have adverse side effects for years to come.

"I had a patient who had COVID-19 and broke her water at 25 weeks [gestation]," she said.

Shear recalled the case of another woman who tested positive for COVID-19, this time near the end of her pregnancy, and was forced to give birth.

Both the child's parents were unvaccinated, but the baby tested negative upon birth.

"But then, the baby got COVID-19 from the parents and had to be hospitalized at the Montreal Children's Hospital," Shear said.

PREVENTABLE AND RESPONSIBLE

The side effects of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 are the same for pregnant women as it is for the general population: sore arm, muscle aches, headaches or fatigue up to 24 hours after inoculation.

"Other rare, rare side effects are exceedingly rare," Shear pointed out, adding there is emerging evidence that shows protective antibodies have been found inside umbilical cord blood, offering some protection for newborns against the virus.

Not only does getting vaccinated protect mother and baby, she notes, it's also the socially responsible thing to do.

"It's for the communal greater good and we've seen cases where unvaccinated people transmit it to other vulnerable people," she said. "It's selfish to only think of yourself in this context. People don't think there are repercussions to others by not getting vaccinated and that's what I mean by it's kind of selfish."

The AOGQ plans to publish a full report on the number of women who have contracted COVID-19 at the end of November.