The Chair of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said more effort must be made to reach out to pregnant women who are not taking up the offer of a Covid-19 vaccination.

Dr Cliona Murphy, obstetrician at the Coombe Hospital in Dublin, said the virus is a significant risk to pregnant women and this risk has become worse over the pandemic waves.

"People think the pandemic is over, it's not over. It's not over for this subset of the population," she said.

Dr Murphy said a counsel and offer service that has been running in the Rotunda Hospital for the last three weeks has resulted in a small number of women taking up the vaccination offer.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, she added that help should be offered to people to overcome barriers and receive a vaccine as easily as possible.

"You're talking about women who have childcare issues, have travel issues, have financial issues, so just getting organised to do that may be a step too far, so if we can help in any way with that, then we should be doing so," she said.

Dr Murphy said it is now a weekly event that pregnant women are being admitted to ICU, but this is not very well known.

She said that ICU care of a pregnant woman and their child, and potential emergency delivery of the baby, is "a huge, huge ask of the health services ... and a huge incident for the woman and her family".

Ireland does not have any hospital that has a maternity and intensive care on the same site, she said, and it is really, really strange to be having this on an almost weekly basis.

Dr Murphy said that women think they are doing the right thing by waiting to get the vaccine.

However, if a baby is delivered prematurely because a woman gets sick, she said, that baby is not off to the best start in life.

Dr Murphy said she would have expected an increase in vaccinations among pregnant women but just one in ten women were vaccinated in the last clinic she held.

"This really struck me as strange, if 90% of the population is vaccinated," she said.

The misinformation that is out there needs to be unpicked and younger cohorts are getting most of their information from TikTok or Facebook, she said.

HSE Chief Clinical Officer Colm Henry told RTÉ's News At One: "We have seen a disproportionate number of pregnant women who are hospitalised entering the ICU.

"It is a worry and we would like to see more women being vaccinated.

"Thankfully, there have been no deaths of pregnant women as yet in this country."

Meanwhile, almost a fifth of the most critically ill coronavirus patients in England in recent months were unvaccinated pregnant women, health officials said as they urged expectant mothers to get their jabs.

NHS England said that, between 1 July and 30 September, 17% of Covid patients receiving treatment through a special lung-bypass machine were mothers-to-be who had not had their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

The organisation said data also showed that pregnant women accounted for 32% of all females aged between 16 and 49 in intensive care on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).

This is used when a patient's lungs are so damaged by Covid that a ventilator cannot maintain oxygen levels.

NHS England said this figure has risen from 6% at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.

England's chief midwife Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent said the data is "another stark reminder that the Covid-19 jab can keep you, your baby and your loved ones safe and out of hospital".

NHS England said data from more than 100,000 Covid vaccinations in pregnancy in England and Scotland, and a further 160,000 in the US, show there has been no subsequent harm to the foetus or infant.

President of the UK's Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Edward Morris said medics understand women's concerns but want to offer reassurance that the vaccine is safe.

He said the "disproportionate" number of unvaccinated pregnant women in intensive care shows there is a "significant risk of severe illness from Covid-19 in pregnancy".

He said: "We are urgently calling for all pregnant women to come forward for their vaccinations.

"There is robust evidence showing that the vaccine is the most effective way to protect both mother and baby against the possibility of severe illness from Covid-19."

Additional reporting PA