Many people felt a sigh of relief as the first COVID-19 vaccine crossed the finish line and was authorized for use in the U.S. However, there were some who were hesitant as misinformation and myths circulated, including the lingering rumor the vaccine causes infertility in women.
As a family medicine doctor who provides prenatal care and delivers babies, MU Health Care's Laura Morris, MD, has heard the concern enough times that she proactively reassures her patients the vaccine is completely safe for those looking to expand their families. Her go-to statement for peace of mind: the fact that there is no plausible reason — no medical or scientific mechanism — for the vaccine to interact with a woman’s reproductive organs, or for it to have any interaction with an egg that’s been released or fertilized.
Albert Hsu, MD, a fertility expert at MU Health Care, said he frequently hears COVID-19 vaccine concerns from patients who are trying to conceive. Similar to Dr. Morris, he explains to his patients there is simply no data or credible scientific theories to support any link between the vaccine and infertility.
The myth is based on a false narrative that the vaccine could somehow cause the body to attack syncytin-1, a protein in the placenta that shares a tiny piece of genetic code with the spike protein of the coronavirus. The way Dr. Morris explains it, your immune system mistaking the two proteins based on that code would be like you mistaking an elephant for a mouse because they’re both grey. Sure, there is one small similarity, but the overall construction of the proteins is completely different, and 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. Pregnant women get sicker when they get COVID-19 compared to other people their age, and pregnant women with COVID-19 are more likely to experience pregnancy complications, such as preterm delivery. And for those reasons, Dr. Morris says those wanting to conceive or who are already pregnant should embrace rather than avoid vaccination.
What about men's fertility?
Similarly, Dr. Hsu recommends the COVID-19 vaccine for men concerned about their fertility because of the possible effects the disease could have on their reproductive system. In fact, 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, and may also impact the hormones necessary for normal sperm production. Not to mention, there are numerous reports of men with testicular or scrotal pain, and testicular swelling, after getting the COVID-19 disease. The COVID-19 vaccine might actually protect male fertility by preventing all of this.
Dr. Morris and Dr. Hsu’s advice: Those who are worried about fertility should talk to their doctor about getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
Next Steps and Useful Resources
- Laura Morris, MD is a primary care provider at MU Health Care
- Albert Hsu, MD is a fertility expert at MU Health Care
- Interested in getting the COVID-19 vaccine? Schedule now
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