As availability of the COVID-19 vaccines continues to grow, many pregnant women—and those considering a future pregnancy—have grown concerned about the vaccine’s impact on fertility. So in light of the 2021 American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ Annual Clinical and Scientific Meeting, Dr. Hector Chapa addresses some of the most common misconceptions surrounding the COVID-19 vaccines’ impact on patients, specifically women.
Written by Hector O., Chapa, M.D., F.A.C.O.G.
As we know, many misconceptions about the vaccine have circulated on social media — one of them being whether or not the COVID-19 vaccine can cause infertility. So, here's my take on some of the most common fears, facts, and follies regarding the COVID-19 vaccines.
People fear what they don’t understand and can’t control. That is our nature. Some fear that the COVID vaccine will "make them ill with COVID." That is NOT the case.
Yes, receiving the vaccine may trigger an immune response which may result in some muscle aches, soreness, and low-grade fever. These reactions are to be expected and show that your immune system is doing its job and learning how to fight the coronavirus. However, the vaccines currently in use have no potential to result in the actual COVID illness in any vaccine recipient.
At the same time, others fear that the vaccine is not working in them if they did NOT experience any of the reported side effects. Well, that is also NOT the case. Medical experts agree that a lack of side effects doesn’t mean the shot isn’t working!
The current COVID vaccine options are safe and effective in preventing severe illness form the coronavirus.
While one vaccine was halted as some rare post-vaccine events were noted (cerebral venous sinus thrombosis), it is important to keep the facts in mind: As of April 12, 2021 the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine was associated with 6 reports of CVST with thrombocytopenia (platelet counts <150K/mm3) following 6.86 million doses administered. CVST is more common in females than in males in the general population, and all 6 cases were in female recipients.
Out of abundance of caution, the Jansen vaccine was withheld until more safety data was analyzed, and as of April 23, 2021, the CDC and the FDA lifted the pause on the vaccine.
The COVID vaccines do NOT cause infertility. The fear focused on a natural occurring protein, Syncytin-1. This protein, also known as enverin, is a protein that is found in the brain and is also needed for placental formation. It is fundamental for successful pregnancies in humans.
The false claims widely distributed on social media platforms suggested that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines may cause the body’s own immune system to target and attack syncytin-1 because it has some similarities to the spike protein of Sars-CoV2. The claim was that the vaccine could theoretically lead to infertility.
Truth is the coronavirus spike protein shares only a slight similarity to syncitin-1 (just a few amino acid sequences). Additionally, even if a large amount of similarities existed, this would not lead to inability to conceive (infertility) but would more likely be tied to pregnancy loss once pregnancy occurred. This is NOT what is seen in the vaccine trials.
As stated by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, "We also assure patients that there is no evidence that the vaccine can lead to loss of fertility. While fertility was not specifically studied in the clinical trials of the vaccine, 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. Loss of fertility is scientifically unlikely.”
Fighting Fears with Facts
In short, it is human nature to fear the unknown. We are in new territory with this pandemic. However, science will win. What eliminated Polio as a worldwide scourge? Vaccination! Personally, I strongly encourage (as does the CDC) the use and adoption of the mRNA vaccines. This is our best option as a secret weapon against an invisible foe.