Often a gynaecologist sees women, well into their pregnancies end up in the nursing ward with fever and severe shortness of breath. 

It is always good to have a right thermometer at hand – to notice IF you have fever as it is one of the common effects of having COVID

Source: Algemeen Daglvad – Juriaan Nolles

You can protect yourself and your baby’

Back in the storm During yet another corona wave, reporter Jurriaan Nolles reports on the care, work and hustle at the Catharina Hospital in Eindhoven. Today a report on the consultation with gynecologist Michelle Westerhuis, who sees that half of the women are unvaccinated.

Gynecologist Michelle Westerhuis examines an expectant mother. photo Rene Manders

 Ever since gynecologist Michelle Westerhuis saw with her own eyes how seriously pregnant women can get into trouble because of corona, she asks each of her patients this question:

With the vaccine, we have something good on our hands after all

,,Are you vaccinated?

It’s a little after two when a pregnant woman comes into her consulting room. In response to Westerhuis’ question, she says: ,,I don’t know what the vaccine does to the baby. And I feel fine now and with that vaccine I don’t have a good feeling.”

Westerhuis tries to convince her by saying that hundreds of thousands of pregnant women have been vaccinated without a problem, that there is no study showing additional miscarriages and that corona can affect the placenta. And above all, that the vaccines are safe and effective: ”You can protect yourself and your baby.”

Patient: ,,My friend has done a lot of research himself. He can’t figure out what the vaccine does to our unborn baby. I don’t have a good feeling about it and you can’t turn that off.”

It sometimes makes her despondent, Westerhuis says later in the afternoon. ”After all, we have something good in our hands with the vaccine,” she says, ”so why are we not succeeding in getting the message across?”

Gynaecologists in the Netherlands have tried everything: cries for help, interviews in newspapers, reports on television. But they are not succeeding in convincing pregnant women to take a vaccine en masse. An estimated 50 percent of pregnant women are unvaccinated, they suspect at the professional association NVOG. There are no exact figures.

It’s also what Westerhuis sees in her own consulting room. Today, four out of eight women who visit the consultation hour appear not to have taken the vaccine. Westerhuis is concerned about this, because she regularly sees women with severe corona complaints in the nursing ward. Women, well into their pregnancies, with fever and severe shortness of breath. ,,You see how stuffy they are. Have tension and stress, are afraid they have to go to the ICU.” At Catharina Hospital, too, they have had mothers who only saw their babies after they came off the ventilator. Birth was via emergency caesarean section.

Dutch hospitals have treated nearly 1,000 pregnant women with corona since the beginning of the pandemic until early December. Of these, almost 20 percent had to go to the ICU or the obstetric “high care”, especially for pregnant women.

From June to early December, half of the hospitalized women suffered a premature birth. Either the mother or the child were in a deteriorated condition so the baby was delivered earlier. In one case so far, the mother died from the effects of the coronavirus.

Yet it is not these horror stories with which Westerhuis tries to convince her patients. We keep repeating the message calmly, giving the right information. Pushing things back is counterproductive; then someone shuts down and you have no opening. And you no longer have an opening.

She also understands that women have doubts. They are genuinely afraid that the vaccine will harm their baby. ”They are carrying something very fragile in their belly. For some, a paracetamol is already exciting.”

Moreover, the information provided at the beginning of the vaccination campaign was confusing. At first, women were advised to wait to receive the vaccine as a precaution. That understanding has since been reversed, but that initial message still leads to doubt. ,,I hear a lot of women who aren’t sure. They postpone their decision, and end up not making a decision at all.”

 The same question, phrased slightly differently, to a new patient in Westerhuis’ room. ”What about your vaccination status?” Answer: ,,The vaccine is still very new, so I’ve been hesitating. It’s a risk after all. I didn’t do it.”

Patiently, Westerhuis repeats all the research. Maybe after vaccination you will get a small side effect of muscle pain or some fever. But your baby won’t notice that.”

After the consultation, Westerhuis points out through the window to the city of Eindhoven. The Catharina Hospital is located near the Woensel neighbourhood. ”We are a city hospital,” she says. ,,We see women from all different cultures and ranks. A popular late night show in The Netherlands  broadcasted already an item on this subject, and then a gynecologist was on Op1. But those programs don’t see many of my patients.”

She always asks her patients where they got their information. Often it’s from their environment, with well-intentioned advice, Westerhuis says. ”We have to continue to put our knowledge in front of that.”

A young pregnant woman steps into Westerhuis’ consulting room. She has been vaccinated, she explains. ,,,I didn’t study for it, so when a doctor tells me to take it, I’m more likely to trust that than a post on Facebook.’’