'Why I'm Getting Vaccinated:' A Pregnant Doctor Who Felt 'Relief' to Get the Shot After Weeks of Debating

PEOPLE's "Why I'm Getting Vaccinated" campaign hopes to fight vaccine misinformation and encourage people to get the shot as part of the battle against COVID-19. Noteworthy names and everyday people alike will share their powerful, personal reasons for getting vaccinated.

pregnant doctor
Photo: Getty

Jillian Simard, M.D., is 21 weeks pregnant and due in June with her first child. The 35-year-old Maryland oncologist sees patients every day, and took several weeks weighing the pros and cons of getting vaccinated as a pregnant woman, before deciding to go ahead with it. She just received her second dose of the Moderna vaccine, with minimal side effects. This is her story about why she's getting vaccinated, as told to PEOPLE.

Before a vaccine was approved, I just assumed pregnant women weren't going to be able to get it, because it hadn't been tested on pregnant women specifically. At that time it felt kind of abstract and I was like, "Well, I'll think about it when it comes." Then in December I got an email from my employer to schedule my appointment; I thought about the decision for probably two weeks.

Initially I didn't think I would get vaccinated because there's no data about the vaccine and pregnant women. Of course, I will get my other [TDAP] vaccine during pregnancy, but my concern with the COVID vaccine was that they hadn't tested it on pregnant women. They don't think that the vaccine crosses the placenta, but it's hard to know for sure at this point. Reading about how scientists can't think of a reason why it would be problematic was a little reassuring to me, but there's still a lot of uncertainty.

So why did I decide to get it? Initially, I thought I could continue doing what I was doing to minimize my COVID exposure. I have to take public transportation to work, but people are generally pretty careful. And they are careful at the hospital where I work. But at the time there were all these protests and the Metro was super crowded; then these new strains were coming and the case rates were going up.

On top of that, my significant other lives in California. I wasn't thrilled about traveling, but for the sake of our relationship, I went to see him once and vice versa.

When I had to get on the plane, I [suddenly felt], "Oh my God, I'm going to get this [virus]." It was really scary. I thought, if I get COVID while pregnant, I have a higher chance of not doing well, and I wanted to protect myself and my baby. I thought it was probably safer to get the vaccine. I knew that the outcomes for pregnant women with COVID could be worse, so to me that outweighed the potential risks of the vaccine.

Also, talking to my obstetrician was very, very helpful; she told me, "I know some colleagues, obstetricians, that are pregnant that chose to get it." And just knowing that I wasn't alone, and that people who worked in the field were going ahead with it too, was reassuring.

pregnant woman getting vaccinated

It was right for me, but I would never want to come across as though I'm recommending the vaccine to pregnant women, or that I think they should definitely get it. And I wouldn't want to say that pregnant women should put their concerns about getting vaccinated aside. (In the U.S., the gynecologic societies are encouraging pregnant women to consider it.)

I think either choice is very reasonable and I understand why [another pregnant woman] wouldn't want to get it. If I could just work from home and have control over my exposures, I may not have gotten the vaccine, but I'm out in the world every day; I can't control everything. And the stress of trying to avoid COVID kind of outweighed my fears about the vaccine.

For me personally, once I make a decision, I kind of stop worrying about it. So I think it was just helpful to decide. There's been a lot in the news about pregnancy and the vaccine and I'm trying not to pay too much attention to it. I made my decision and fretting's not going to help me feel any better.

And it's definitely a relief to be vaccinated. Sometimes you feel unsafe and you can't always control those situations. So it's just reassuring to feel protected now that I've gotten both doses. My parents are in the process of getting vaccinated, and I get to see them next month. I haven't seen them in over a year.

In my brief time being pregnant, there's a lot of pressure, there's a lot of anxiety and there's a lot of choices to be made. I think whatever pregnant women decide in this situation, whatever feels like the right choice for them, will be the right choice.

Before being released to the public, vaccine-makers went through large, lengthy clinical trials to ensure that their product is completely safe. On Sept. 8, nine of the leading vaccine makers — including Pfizer and Moderna — signed a pledge vowing to follow "high ethical standards" and not rush a vaccine into production before it is proven to work.

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