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Does Getting a COVID Vaccine Affect Fertility?

covid vaccine and fertility

Verywell / Alison Czinkota

Key Takeaways

  • Many women are delaying getting the COVID-19 vaccine due to concerns about fertility, despite the absence of evidence that the vaccine causes infertility.
  • The most common theory as to why COVID-19 vaccination would interfere with fertility is that antibodies to the virus will attack a protein in the placenta.
  • However, researchers from Yale School of Medicine found "zero evidence" to support this theory.

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout is a crucial step forward in the battle against the coronavirus, but it poses dilemmas for certain groups of people. Some women of child-bearing age have concerns that the vaccine could affect their fertility, following changing government advice and some misleading information on social media.

In November, an online story claimed that the “head of Pfizer research” (a man named Michael Yeadon, who did work for Pfizer between 2006 and 2011, but not in vaccine development) had called the Pfizer vaccine "female sterilization." This wasn’t an accurate portrayal of what Yeadon said, and the story has now been debunked, but it sowed a seed of doubt in many women’s minds.

Alice Lu-Culligan, an MD-PhD student at Yale School of Medicine, was part of a research team that analyzed antibodies in blood samples from women with COVID-19. "The most common theory as to why COVID-19 vaccination would interfere with fertility is that antibodies to the virus will attack the placenta, specifically a protein in the placenta," Lu-Culligan explains. "We looked for this reaction and found zero evidence supporting this theory."

Alice Lu-Culligan

Women have conceived after coronavirus infection and vaccination. They include vaccinated women who became pregnant while participating in clinical trials of the vaccines. It is exceedingly unlikely that vaccine materials representing a small portion of the virus would impair fertility.

— Alice Lu-Culligan

Finding Accurate, Trustworthy Sources

"I think there are two important considerations that women need to weigh when they're scared and seeking more information," Lu-Culligan says. "Firstly, they need to find someone they feel they can trust and have a productive, open, vulnerable, two-way conversation with, and secondly—critically—that person or entity needs to be someone with expertise in the area."

She notes that this second factor is crucial, but often overlooked. While a lot of women have people they trust, "those people might not have the specific background of knowledge in the relevant field to be able to evaluate the complex scientific ideas being put forth."

In other words, while your friend or relative might have your best interests at heart, they won’t necessarily have the knowledge or expertise required to make accurate claims about how the COVID-19 vaccine behaves.

Alice Lu-Culligan

[Women] need to find someone they feel they can trust and have a productive, open, vulnerable, two-way conversation with, and secondly—critically—that person or entity needs to be someone with expertise in the area.

— Alice Lu-Culligan

"Unfortunately, many women don't feel that they have someone who fulfills both those two requirements in their everyday lives," Lu-Culligan adds. "Ideally this would be their healthcare providers, but some women don't feel they have a safe relationship with their provider, and some providers don't feel they have the right information or type of expertise to answer patients' questions fully."

"This is not their fault but reflects some of the failures of our healthcare system and of our messaging from the scientific community," Lu-Culligan says. "It's unfortunate."

The key to finding that person you feel you can trust is to be proactive and activate your support networks, Lu-Culligan says. This could be as simple as reading and sharing an article from a world-renowned expert who is trustworthy on the given issue.

Many have turned to a trusted source on social media (like Lu-Culligan’s own mentor at Yale School of Medicine, Professor Akiko Iwasaki, PhD). "Others really need to find someone to have a personal conversation with, perhaps a friend or acquaintance of a friend that they know well and deeply trust. Each woman has to decide this for themselves," Lu-Culligan says.

What Does Science Say About the COVID-19 Vaccine and Fertility?

To date, there is no evidence or reports of infertility among women who have recovered from COVID-19, despite the millions who have been infected. "To the contrary, women have conceived after coronavirus infection and vaccination," Lu-Culligan says. "They include vaccinated women who became pregnant while participating in clinical trials of the vaccines. It is exceedingly unlikely that vaccine materials representing a small portion of the virus would impair fertility."

While following the right experts on social media can provide accurate information and reassurance, the world of Twitter, Facebook, etc. also can insight confusion and fear. "If you look around on social media, you will find people claiming that the vaccines cause all sorts of scary outcomes," Lu-Culligan says.

"The fact of the matter is that the vaccines have been administered to tens of millions of people so far in this country alone. We have a lot of data on how safe these vaccines are, including the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) that documents any instance of adverse events following vaccination whether related to the vaccine or not," she says.

Lu-Culligan believes the biggest concern is that women are being crippled by undue fear, anxiety, and stress over vaccination, especially when they are not pregnant. "This takes a significant toll on women's mental health and causes more harm than proper caution warrants," she warns. "I strongly believe that women who are trying to get pregnant or may be pregnant in the future should want to get vaccinated before they get pregnant, if at all possible or available to them, for the health and safety of themselves and their future developing child."

Meaghan Bowling, MD, FACOG

I encourage my patients to get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available to them, including women trying to get pregnant, women undergoing fertility treatments, women in any trimester of pregnancy, and women who are currently breastfeeding.

— Meaghan Bowling, MD, FACOG

Experts agree that the safest way to enter pregnancy right now is to be vaccinated before conceiving. "Pregnant women are known to be in a higher risk category of COVID-19 illness, compared to the average person," says Meaghan Bowling, MD, FACOG, who is board-certified in both obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive endocrinology and infertility.

"COVID-19 infection has well-documented risks to mother and fetus, including severe respiratory illness, preterm labor, and maternal death," Bowling says. "These real risks should be considered and weighed against the hypothetical and currently unproven idea that the COVID-19 vaccine could cause any detrimental effect on a woman’s reproductive health, including infertility, miscarriage, or birth defects."

Multiple national organizations including the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine (SMFM) have all recommended that the COVID-19 vaccine should not be withheld from pregnant women or women trying to conceive.

"Every woman should have the opportunity to speak with her physician, and she should be given the autonomy to make this medical decision based on a shared-decision making model," Dr. Bowling says. "I encourage my patients to get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available to them, including women trying to get pregnant, women undergoing fertility treatments, women in any trimester of pregnancy, and women who are currently breastfeeding."

What This Means For You

It's important to know that there's no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine affects a woman's fertility. But If you've been offered the COVID-19 vaccine and still have concerns, speak to your primary care physician or OB/GYN.

It's natural to feel anxious when so much information (and misinformation) is circulating widely on social media, but your doctor should be able to put your mind at ease.

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  1. AP News. NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week. December 11, 2020.