When the first COVID-19 vaccine crossed the finish line and was authorized for use in the U.S., the first piece of misinformation about the vaccine wasn’t far behind. A social media myth claimed the vaccine could cause infertility in women.
MU Health Care family medicine doctor Laura Morris, MD, has heard it so many times, she doesn’t even wait for her patients to bring it up.
“I proactively address this rumor with my patients of reproductive age who have not been vaccinated,” said Morris, who treats pregnant women and delivers babies as part of her practice. “There is no plausible reason — no medical or scientific mechanism — for this vaccine to interact with a woman’s reproductive organs or have any interaction with an egg that’s been released or fertilized.”
Albert Hsu, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist at MU Health Care, said he frequently hears COVID-19 vaccine concerns from patients who are trying to conceive.
“While studies are ongoing, there is no data that the COVID-19 vaccines may cause infertility and no credible scientific theories for how the COVID-19 vaccine may cause female infertility,” Hsu said. “Statements linking COVID-19 vaccines to female infertility are currently speculative at best.”
The myth is based on an assumption that the vaccine could cause the body to attack syncytin-1, a protein in the placenta that shares a small piece of genetic code with the spike protein of the coronavirus.
“A good analogy I’ve heard is that for your immune system to get mixed up and attack the placental protein would be like you mistaking an elephant for an alley cat because they’re both gray,” Morris said. “There is one small similarity, but the overall construction of the protein is so completely different, your immune system is way too smart to be confused by that.”
While there is no reason to believe the vaccine poses a risk to women who are pregnant or are trying to conceive, there is evidence about the danger of COVID-19 infection to pregnant women, which is a reason they should embrace rather than avoid vaccination.
“Pregnant women get sicker when they get COVID compared to other people their age, and pregnant people with COVID are more likely to experience preterm delivery,” Morris said. “The effect of COVID disease on pregnancy is real, and it’s important to prevent.”
Similarly, Hsu recommends the COVID vaccine for men concerned about their fertility because of the possible effects that COVID-19 disease could have on their reproductive system. To address this issue, he recently published a peer-reviewed journal article that discussed the potential negative impact of the COVID-19 disease on testicular function, sperm production and male fertility. Some studies have shown that the SARS-COV-2 virus has been found in the sperm of men with COVID-19 infection, the SARS-CoV-2 virus may impact male hormones necessary for normal sperm production, and there are numerous reports of men with testicular or scrotal pain after getting the COVID-19 disease.
“Men who are worried about their fertility should probably get the COVID-19 vaccine,” Hsu said, “as there are some concerns about the potential effect of COVID-19 disease on male fertility.”