The COVID-19 Vaccine Has Been Falsely Linked To Infertility. Here’s What You Should Know.

By now, you’ve likely heard rumblings or seen social media posts about the supposed (and totally false) link between the COVID-19 vaccine and infertility.

It may surprise you to learn that false claims linking vaccines and fertility are nothing new.“The trope that vaccines affect your fertility is played out over and over again,” says Zev Williams, MD, PhD, director of the Columbia University Fertility Center in New York City. HPV vaccines, for instance, have been wrongly linked to causing premature menopause in women that would render them infertile.

In the case of COVID-19, the never-before-used mRNA technology in both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines is adding an extra degree of fear, says Dr. Zev Williams. Plus, there’s the fact that all three of the vaccines were approved through emergency use authorizations as opposed to the traditional FDA approval process (which can take years as opposed to months).

It also doesn’t help that the now-cancelled Amazon Prime miniseries Utopia features a vaccine that sterilizes people in an effort to thin out the population. This show is a remake of a UK series from 2013—long before we ever lived by the phrase “social distancing,” but nonetheless, it easily stokes these anxieties.

Just to be clear: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) calls allegations linking the COVID-19 vaccine and infertility “unfounded” and “scientifically disproven.”

Here’s everything you need to know about how the vaccine works, and why you shouldn’t worry about it impacting your fertility.

How does the COVID-19 vaccine work again?

Right now, there are two different types of vaccines (from three different companies) approved for use in the U.S.

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, which requires just one shot, is what’s called a viral vector vaccine. This is the same type of vaccine that’s used against the flu every year. As the CDC explains, it uses a modified version of a different virus to prompt our cells to produce the spike protein found on the virus that causes COVID-19. This is harmless to you, but it allows your immune system to recognize the spike protein and produce antibodies against it. Your immune system will remember how to fight off the virus in the future.

The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are both messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines. This is a new type of vaccine, never before given to the public. Nonetheless, the technology has been studied for years. The vaccine contains material from the virus that causes COVID-19, which teaches your cells to make a harmless piece of the spike protein that’s found on the virus, explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This gives your immune system the ability to recognize that protein and mount antibodies against it.

What about those placenta rumors though?

At the end of 2020, rumors swirled around social media claiming that the “Head of Pfizer Research” had sounded the alarm that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine would result in female sterilization.

Fears circulated that a spike protein on the virus, syncytin-1, was similar to a protein found on the surface of the placenta, and that antibodies developed to fight against this protein would also damage a developing placenta.

However, that’s just not true. “We and others have analyzed this. While you’ll never find two large proteins that have nothing in common, there are very little similarities between the two proteins,” says Dr. Zev Williams.

The Associated Press also quickly debunked these rumors, noting that there’s no proof anyone who ever served as “Head of Research” at Pfizer even made these claims. They also confirmed with several medical experts that there is no evidence that proteins found in the Pfizer vaccine will cause infertility or problems with the placenta.

So what does the evidence say about the vaccine and fertility?

First, it’s important to know that there haven’t been specific studies examining the link between the COVID-19 vaccine and infertility. Still, “while more data will be needed to know with certainty, there is no evidence suggesting that the vaccines cause infertility, and there isn’t any reason to suspect that the vaccines could cause infertility,” says Dr. Zev Williams.

So, what makes doctors say that? Because there’s plenty of data from existing clinical trials for the vaccine that supports it. “No loss of fertility has been reported among trial participants or among the millions who have received the vaccines since their authorization, and no signs of infertility appeared in animal studies,” a joint statement from ACOG, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) said.

There’s been no link between COVID-19 vaccines or miscarriage, either. “We do have early data comparing miscarriage rates among women in the clinical trials for the vaccines and in the follow-up and there is no higher rate of miscarriage in those who received the vaccine,” says Dr. Zev Williams.

Is it safe to get the vaccine when pregnant?

As soon as patients tell Nicole Williams, MD, founder of the Gynecology Institute of Chicago, that they’re pregnant, she advises they get the vaccine. That is in line with ACOG’s recommendation that “COVID-19 vaccines should not be withheld from pregnant individuals.”

They also note that pregnant women are more likely to develop a severe COVID-19 infection, and that there is growing evidence that more severe illness is associated with higher rates of cesarean section and preterm birth, according to a study in Obstetrics & Gynecology on 241 women. In another study, severe infection also increased the risk of hospitalization and death for pregnant people compared to non-pregnant individuals.

Though there is currently limited safety data on the COVID vaccines and pregnancy, the CDC does say that based on an understanding of how mRNA vaccines work, they do not anticipate any unique risk. But again, more research needs to be done. Vaccine trials specifically excluded pregnant and lactating people (though a small number became pregnant during the trial).

Remember: Your doctor can also offer specific advice about vaccination based on your individual risks.

The bottom line: There’s no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine will cause infertility in women.

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