- Misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines have made some people fearful the shots could affect their fertility, despite no evidence this is possible.
- One survey conducted in the United Kingdom found that about a quarter of young women didn't want to get the vaccine due to concerns about their fertility.
- If you have any concerns about the vaccines, talk with your doctor. They’ll be able to explain how the vaccines work and how there’s no link between the shot and infertility.
Misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines' ability to impact fertility has been swirling around the internet since the vaccine rollout launched in December 2020.
In recent weeks, the spread of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation has accelerated, with people sharing unreliable links, memes, and videos claiming the vaccine can impair fertility in teenagers.
There's no link between the vaccines and infertility, health experts say.
The Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) have both recommended that people who are pregnant have access to COVID-19 vaccines.
The ACOG points out that the vaccine studies don't indicate any safety concerns.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also states that those who would like to become pregnant don't need to avoid the vaccines or a take a pregnancy test before getting the vaccines. They also point out there's no evidence that the vaccines cause fertility problems.
During the clinical trials, several people became pregnant, suggesting that the vaccines don't cause infertility, said Dr. José Mayorga, the executive director of the University of California Irvine’s Health Family Health Center and an assistant clinical professor of family medicine at the UCI School of Medicine.
More than 100,000 pregnant people in the United States have been vaccinated for COVID-19.
Research done in more than 35,000 pregnant people who had the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines found there's no evidence the vaccines have affected or harmed people who were pregnant, and there's no evidence that the shots harm the baby or pregnancy.
The study authors do say follow up should continue with these parents and children to verify the vaccine's safety.
What’s behind the myth?
In December 2020, a German physician named Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg expressed concern about a protein included in the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines that seemed similar in structure to syncytin-1 — a protein that helps the placenta develop in pregnancy.
Since the spike protein and syncytin-1 share small pieces of genetic code, fear circulated that the vaccine could trigger an immune response that attacks the placenta, despite no evidence of this.
Wodarg has made misleading statements in the past, according to the Poynter Institute. They reported that he said that the novel coronavirus was harmless in 2020 despite all evidence to the contrary.
However, after Wodarg's concerns were made public, some have worried that the genetic material included in the vaccines could enter the host’s genome and alter their DNA, even though that's impossible.
People took to social media to spread these false claims, driving vaccine hesitancy among some people with future plans of becoming pregnant.
In a U.K. survey, they found that about a quarter of young women didn't want to get the vaccines due to concerns about their fertility.
The misconception that vaccines can cause infertility isn't new.
“In 2003, there were serious concerns about the polio vaccine in Nigeria. A similar thing occurred with the HPV vaccine. Both are safe and have no effect on fertility,” said Dr. Christine Metz, a professor at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York.
According to Mayorga, there’s also a misunderstanding that mRNA vaccines are a new technology.
“This is far from the truth. The mRNA vaccine has been studied for decades” to combat diseases like flu, rabies, Zika virus, and even cancer, Mayorga said.
The vaccines don't impact fertility, experts say
“There is absolutely no evidence that vaccines, and in particular the COVID-19 vaccines, impact fertility,” said Dr. Jill Rabin, an OB-GYN and professor at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York.
Rabin recommends the COVID-19 vaccines to patients who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant in the future, and breastfeeding.
The mRNA coronavirus vaccines teach our cells to make a protein or part of a protein that then triggers an immune response. It's that immune response that produces antibodies and protects us from viral infection.
That genetic material is discarded once our immune system has been activated.
According to Metz, mRNA is not stable. It doesn't replicate or reproduce and is quickly degraded by the body.
“Once our muscle cells make the spike protein, the instruction manual is ‘thrown away’ or degraded. It does not stay around and more importantly, does not enter the special place in our cells where our DNA resides,” Mayorga said.
Physicians and healthcare professionals are on a mission to share real and vetted scientific information with patients and assure them there's no evidence the vaccines can lead to a loss of fertility, said Rabin.
COVID-19 can be a life threatening disease with serious short and long-term health consequences. The reactions and side effects caused by the vaccines, however, are manageable.
“My advice for teens and parents concerned that the vaccine could impact fertility administration is to reassure them that the science does not show this,” Rabin said.
Mayorga said he’s made himself available to address these types of myths and answer his patient’s questions about the vaccines.
Mayorga has shared videos and drawn images of what happens in the body after being vaccinated.
He also hosted a seminar for teens interested in the COVID-19 vaccines. During the talk, he answered their questions, explained how the mRNA vaccines work, and spoke on the benefits of vaccination.
“As I reflect back on this talk, I realized that as physicians, we need to continue to approach each patient differently and try different tactics to help educate, empower, and debunk the myths circulating,” Mayorga said.
If you have any concerns about the vaccines, talk with your doctor. They’ll be able to explain how the vaccines work and how there’s no link between the shot and infertility.
The bottom line
Misinformation surrounding COVID-19 vaccines and their ability to impact fertility has been around since vaccine rollout.
Despite these misconceptions, scientists continue to assure people that there's no link between COVID-19 vaccines and infertility.
To combat concerns, healthcare professionals are trying to teach people how the vaccines work, and are hosting seminars to address some of the more common myths and misconceptions about the shots.