Here, doctors and researchers explain why they want pregnant women and hopeful new moms to get the vaccine.

By Korin Miller
January 08, 2021
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Getting the COVID vaccine protects you and others from coronavirus infection and is the biggest step yet toward getting the world back online. Still, because of the newness of the disease and the speed of the vaccine development, there are lots of concerns and theories floating around the web regarding the vaccines' side effects and safety, some of which are more valid than others.

One major topic circulating on social media that's been a source of misinformation: A claim that the vaccine causes infertility. (Before we go any further, to set the record straight, doctors and scientists say this is NOT TRUE — more on why below.) One such Facebook post even shared an article that alleged a Pfizer researcher likened the vaccine to “female sterilization.” The post has now been marked as “false information” by the platform.

Even if your B.S. radar is strong, it can be unnerving to be bombarded with all this talk about the COVID vaccine and infertility. And experts say these rumors are having a real impact on women. "It's hugely important to address this," says William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. "Of all the concerns about the vaccine, this one is the most persistent.” (Related: Here's What You Need to Know About COVID Vaccine Side Effects If You Have Cosmetic Fillers)

Here's what you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine and fertility, plus why experts say there's no scientific evidence that getting the vaccine will impact your ability to have children in the future.

Reminder: Here's how the COVID-19 vaccine actually works.

First, a refresher on how the two currently FDA-approved vaccines work: Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use genetic material called mRNA to instruct the body to produce a spike protein found on the surface of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This triggers an immune response in the body, and you develop antibodies to the virus as a result. Your body then eliminates the protein, along with the mRNA, but the antibodies stick around.

"Because of the type of vaccine, it cannot enter into the human cell and change the person's DNA," says Gloria A. Bachmann, M.D., associate dean for women's health at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. "Human cells break down the mRNA in the vaccine quickly."

What's being said about the COVID vaccine and fertility issues?

Most of the misleading information around the COVID vaccine and fertility claims that the vaccine contains a spike protein called syncytin-1, which is associated with the function of the placenta, an organ that develops during pregnancy to provide oxygen and nutrients to the baby.

But this is incorrect, as the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein "is not really similar at all to syncytin-1,” says Michael Cackovic, M.D., a maternal-fetal medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. And, FWIW, there’s no reason to believe that blocking syncytin-1 even causes infertility anyway, adds Dr. Cackovic.

The false claims circulating online simply "seize on pseudo-science," says infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. "This is an arbitrary assertion that's taken on a life of its own thanks to social media."

Bottom line: There is no evidence to support the notion that the COVID vaccine impacts fertility, adds Dr. Schaffner. And experts from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) agree. "Given the mechanism of action and the safety profile of the vaccine in non-pregnant individuals, COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are not thought to cause an increased risk of infertility,” according to an advisory issued last month from the organization.

So should you get the COVID vaccine if you’re currently pregnant or trying to conceive?

"ACOG recommends vaccination of individuals who are actively trying to become pregnant or are contemplating pregnancy and meet the criteria for vaccination," states that same advisory from ACOG. "Additionally, it is not necessary to delay pregnancy after completing both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine."

Furthermore, some women participating in the clinical trials for both approved vaccines became pregnant during the course of the experiments, and there is "no evidence that issues with fertility happened in those people," says Dr. Cackovic. In fact, during the Moderna trial, 13 participants became pregnant, and during Pfizer vaccine trials, 23 pregnancies occurred. While one in the Pfizer group did experience pregnancy loss, that person received the placebo — not the vaccine.

Dr. Schaffner also urges women interested in conceiving to consider the risks of not getting vaccinated, which include the potential of severe disease and premature delivery if you do become pregnant. "There are real reasons on behalf of the mom and her baby to get this vaccine to protect them both," he says.

If you're still nervous about how the COVID vaccine might affect your future fertility, Dr. Schaffner recommends simply talking to your doctor to get direct reassurance from a medical provider — not the internet.

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