'These statistics are erroneous': Local hospitals dealing with misinformation on COVID-19 vaccines causing stillbirths

Grand River Hospital and St. Mary’s General Hospital say misinformation is circulating online, reporting an increase in stillbirths in Waterloo region related to the COVID-19 vaccine.

The hospitals have been dealing with the spread for a couple of weeks. Officials said while always tragic, the occurrence of stillbirths remains between .2 and .4 per cent in Waterloo region, which is lower than the national average.

"That information really just doesn't sit well with us and it doesn't sit well with the statistics that we've been able to pull out. Our stillbirth statistics compare very favourably or much lower than that," Dr. Peter Potts Joint Chief of Staff for Grand River Hospital and St. Mary’s General Hospital told CTV News.

The hospital said spreading this misinformation is dangerous and creates unnecessary anxiety among expectant families.

"We’re quite confident that these statistics are erroneous and putting a lot of fear in women around the risk of stillbirth, it just isn't warranted," Dr. Potts said.

University of Guelph Psychology professor Patrick Barclay said people have become less trusting of medical professionals and the government because the pandemic has gone on so long. He feels gaining that trust back will take time.

"The more transparent the communications, the more that it expresses the uncertainty. 'Here's what we know. Here's what we don't know.' Then, the more that people trust that, because they can see that they're being dealt with honestly," Barclay said.

Experts say often misinformation is not spread maliciously, but is the result of someone trying to help their friends and family. Especially if the current government rules don’t mesh with their lifestyle.

"The information being packaged by public health, for example, doesn't have the same kind of narrative appeal as certain kinds of misinformation and disinformation," Penelope Ironstone, an Associate Professor with Wilfrid Laurier University's Department of Communications said.

Ironstone added that dislodging misinformation is a challenge that sometimes has the opposite effect.

"Misinformation spreads much more quickly, goes further and lasts a lot longer than a lot of people think," Ironstone said.

With so much information available online, Ironstone feels there needs to be some type of surveillance.

"Tracing and tracking and trying to figure out when certain bits of misinformation take hold," Ironstone said.

Dr. Potts said pregnant women that contract COVID-19 are more likely to have a stillbirth.

"We think vaccination in pregnancy is the way to go and in fact that will reduce the stillbirth rate, which is exactly opposite to these erroneous statistics are suggesting," Potts said.

Dr. Potts said anyone with questions should speak with their health care provider, to ensure information comes from reputable sources.