KITCHENER -- People who are pregnant are now able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Waterloo Region.

Ontario added them to the highest priority group last Friday.

“It is important to prioritize individuals who are pregnant for the COVD-19 vaccine and for anyone who is pregnant to have the opportunity to receive the vaccine as soon as possible,” Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said in a news release last week. “I encourage those who are pregnant to pre-register for the vaccine right away and if they have concerns about the vaccine and pregnancy to speak with their health care provider.”

Public health encouraged people to pre-register for the vaccine as soon as possible and said they'd be contacted for a vaccine appointment in the coming weeks, as long as supply was available.

"We're seeing (people) who are pregnant end up in the ICU more than we've seen in the past and it's quite alarming," said Dr. Kelly Grindrod, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo's School of Pharmacy. "Pregnant people are much more at risk when they do get sick."

According to Grindrod, respiratory illnesses often disproportionately impact people who are pregnant due to changes in immune responses.

"In this most recent pandemic wave, the third wave, it's become extremely clear this time that people who are pregnant are at a very high risk," Grindrod said.

Grindrod said people would be eligible for different vaccines based on their age.

"A pregnant person who is 40 or older could also get the AstraZeneca vaccine," she said. "A person who is under the age of 40 and pregnant would be looking only at the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines."

While there hasn't been much research yet on COVID-19 vaccines for pregnant people, Grindrod said tens of thousands of people have received the vaccine while pregnant already.

"There are no safety alarms going off saying that there's any particular risk," she said.

Grindrod added there's a lot of messaging about what to avoid while pregnant, such as sandwich meat and some types of cheese. However, the risk of COVID-19 complications has changed things for pregnant people.

"There's a lot of virus out there and there's a really significant risk to a person who's pregnant if they get the virus," she said. "So, it's not your normal kind of risk-benefit analysis that you'd be doing with something in an everyday situation when you're pregnant."

Vaccinating pregnant people could also help their unborn child, since immunity could pass onto the baby while in-utero.

"For the initial period after the baby's born, the baby can have some of those antibodies and immunity from the pregnant parent," she said.

Grindrod recommends people talk to their pregnancy care provider about potential vaccine concerns.

"Every single person who's pregnant and who's having this question right now of 'Should I get vaccinated?' needs to really seriously look at their own risks," she said.

Krysta Hajovic is 29 weeks pregnant and said it's been difficult during a pandemic.

"It terrifies me," she said.

She said she's glad to be included in the vaccine priority list.

"Over the moon excited about getting the vaccine," she said.

She's scheduled to get her first dose on Wednesday and said it will give her peace of mind.

"Knowing that this is the right decision for us, that it is the right decision to keep me healthy, because if I'm not healthy, then my baby won't be healthy," Hajovic said. "That's really what this is about, is getting him here."

Chelsea Tawse is due in August and says, as an essential worker, it's critical that she receive her vaccine.

"Even if I were to catch a variant, having some immunity is better than having no immunity," she said.

With files from CTV News Kitchener's Stephanie Villella