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COVID-19 vaccines do not impact fertility or harm a woman’s unborn baby, doctors have said.
The reassurance comes as anti-vaxx myths circulate on social media, breeding concern among women of childbearing age.
A multitude of rumors circulating on social media, leading to heightened concerns amongst women of childbearing ageCredit: Getty
The White House’s Covid Response Team acknowledged the low vaccine rates amongst pregnant woman (by mid-August, only 23 percent were vaccinated)Credit: AFP
Covid-19 vaccine does not impact infertility or harm pregnanciesCredit: Getty
This and other myths are fuelling vaccine hesitancy across the US, with women and couples delaying getting their jabs. The existing data has not reassured all American mothers, pregnant women, and others who are trying for a baby now or wish to have children in the future.
One mother-of-two, who asked not to be named, told The Sun: “How can you promise a safe drug [or] vaccine within a year of it coming out?
“I just have fears in general. Especially since I have had two pregnancies and one miscarriage. I’m all for shots, it just hasn’t been tested long enough.”
Meanwhile, a 31-year-old who fell ill with Covid-19 last December and still has “a high number of antibodies” according to her doctor, said she’s concerned the vaccine might impact her chances of conceiving.
“I’ve never tried to get pregnant before and according to my doctor I’m perfectly fine to start trying, but if for some reason I can’t get pregnant I know my first instinct would be to blame myself for getting the vaccine, and I don’t want to do that.
“If some positive [information] comes out in the next few months before I start trying, then I would consider getting it.”
The concerns have prompted doctors to speak out and address vaccine hesitancy and misinformation online, which could prove deadly as Covid itself poses a far greater threat to pregnant women and their unborn babies.
Dr Ruben Alvero, a Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Stanford Medical School, told The Sun: “Getting the infection is worse for pregnant women than it is for the general population.
“They are at greater risk of complications of Covid than non-pregnant women. It’s bad that more people don’t know this.”
And, he warned, the new Delta variant means it’s even more important that everyone gets vaccinated.
“This new variant is horrific – it’s worse than anything we’ve seen before,” Alvero added.
“It really is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.
“There is no harm in taking the vaccine, there is a lot of benefit in NOT getting Covid.”
If for some reason I can’t get pregnant I know my first instinct would be to blame myself for getting the vaccine.
Alvero’s stark warning comes as a new study found infected pregnant women are 15 times more likely to die than non-pregnant people.
The study published last month in the journal JAMA Network Open found infected expectant mums are also 14 times more likely to need to be intubated, and 22 times more likely to have a premature baby.
Yet, by mid-August, just 23 percent of pregnant women had been vaccinated in the United States.
Acknowledging vaccine hesitancy, Dr Sigal Klipstein, a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s (ASRM) Covid Task Force, told The Sun many of her patients have echoed the views of these women.
“Part of our role as physicians is to educate patients, answer their questions, address their concerns and ensure that they are making well-informed decisions as they choose to protect themselves and their pregnancy by obtaining vaccination against Covid,” she added.
As noted by The Sun, while Sars-CoV-2 is a new coronavirus, experts have been developing vaccines for other coronaviruses and preparing for a pandemic for many years so despite the speed of development last year, the groundwork was done.
So here, we’ve asked Klipstein, Alvero, and a panel of experts to address the common myths linked to fertility, pregnancy, and the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines – the three shots approved in the United States so far.
MYTH 1: The shot can impact fertility
“Number One, the vaccine itself never reaches the placenta because it lingers in the area of injection for some time,” said Alvero. “So there’s no impact on baby in any way.
“Number two, we have good data – and obviously this is still early in things – but good data from several papers showing that the vaccine does not increase miscarriage.
“Number three, the Covid-19 vaccine does not impact the sperm so there’s no impact on producing sperm or anything like that.”
Alvero, who is also Division Director of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at the Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital in California, noted that antibodies created by a vaccinated mother are beneficial for her baby.
“The antibodies do cross the placenta, which is good because they protect you, they protect the baby,” Alvero told The Sun. “So, when the baby is born, it has maternal antibodies from the vaccine circulating in its blood that will protect it down the road.”
Alvero also noted the harmful effects on an unborn child if an unvaccinated mother contracts Covid-19 during her pregnancy when the virus makes her more at risk of complications – and even death.
Last month, the White House’s Covid Response Team acknowledged the deadly low vaccine rates amongst pregnant Americans and urged expectant moms to get the jab “before or during pregnancy.”
The team is working with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, doctors, and community leaders to address the low vaccination rates amongst expectant moms as the aggressive Delta variant spreads.
There is no harm in taking the vaccine, there is a lot of benefit in not getting Covid.
Dr Ruben Alvero
Reassuring new moms who are nervous about getting the shot, Alvero said: “We have really good data on the protectiveness of the vaccine for both mom and baby – so it’s not just the mom: when the baby is born, they are protected.”
He also revealed that studies on IVF cycles indicated that the vaccine had no impact on fertility or fertilization rates or pregnancy rates, which are the same for vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
“I’m normally not someone who is arrogant about science or being a doctor and all that, but this is a situation where we know good stuff,” he continued.
“I would urge people to listen to us rather than their friends who might have heard something on Facebook or some other areas of misinformation not based on good science.
“I don’t want to have the hubris of the scientist but at the same time, people need to listen to what we know.
“Bottom line, the vaccine doesn’t cause infertility. It does not have a negative impact on pregnant women – it protects the baby, I cannot emphasize that enough, and it protects you against a terrible disease.”
MYTH 2: Vaccine’s spike protein ‘attacks the placenta’
Likewise, Dr Staci E. Pollack, a fertility doctor and professor at Montefiore-Einstein in New York City, was keen to debunk conspiracies contributing to vaccine hesitancy.
One rumor published on a blog was the bogus claim the vaccine’s spike protein “trained” the female body to attack the protein Syncytin-1, which is vital for placenta development because they are too alike – but Pollack pointed out that the proteins are not actually similar.
“As far as we know in 2021, there’s no basis for those fears,” Pollack told The Sun, citing a June 2021 study of participants who were undergoing fertility treatments.
Data published in the ASRM Journal Fertility & Sterility found no difference between women who had the vaccine, who previously had Covid, or who had neither in terms of getting pregnant and maintaining that pregnancy.
“Vaccinations and Covid infections do not impact embryo implantation or early pregnancy development,” Pollack concluded, before addressing the threat Covid poses to unvaccinated pregnant women.
“We only know what we know: there was information that we knew yesterday, there’s information that we know today, and there’s information that we will know tomorrow,” the fertility doctor said.
“I know that if you happen to be pregnant and get [Covid]… there’s a higher chance that you’re going to get admitted to the ICU intubated with a tube down your throat.”
MYTH 3: The shots carry ‘live’ virus that’s dangerous to pregnant women
Pollack also pointed out that the approved vaccines are not dangerous to pregnant women: they are not “live, attenuated virus vaccines” that cause a mild infection, like measles, mumps, and rubella shots.
Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines that carry a lab-made fragment of the virus’s genetic material, the J&J one-dose jab has an inactivated adenovirus that cannot replicate.
Like the Covid jab, pregnant women are also recommended to get the flu shot because they are at risk of influenza-related complications, according to the CDC.
The medic revealed that she dealt with a multitude of IVF patients, who struggled with fertility to begin with, yet still fell pregnant and gave birth after getting the jab.
“I can tell you for sure I’ve taken care of patients who’ve had Covid and I’ve taken care of patients who have had the Covid vaccine and have gotten pregnant,” she concluded.
MYTH 4: The vaccine is not safe to take while pregnant.
She noted The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) recommend getting the vaccine “anywhere in the childbearing process.”
“I would argue in my mind the best is before you’re even pregnant but anywhere along the journey, it’s safe,” Pollack added. “Because the vaccines are so new and it’s a world pandemic, there’s an even closer monitoring.
“People will have infertility, people will have miscarriages whether they’ve had a vaccine or a Covid infection or not – that is just going to happen. All that we can do is chart it.
“I feel really strongly about dispelling the myths on the internet [where] you can say anything – you can post anything you want on Instagram, but what we really want as physicians is to base what we know on science and the data that’s out there.
“What we know is right now, is there’s no evidence to suggest that the vaccines cause any harm if you’re pregnant, or if you’re trying to get pregnant, there’s no basis to think that they cause infertility – but there is data to suggest that they can help you have a safer, healthier pregnancy.”
I would argue in my mind the best is before you’re even pregnant but anywhere along the journey, it’s safe.
Dr Staci E. Pollack
Dr Lynn Marie Westphal, a professor of reproductive endocrinology at Stanford University, reiterated that the vaccine itself doesn’t penetrate the placenta and agreed it’s “much safer for a woman to get vaccinated at any time in her pregnancy than risk getting Covid.”
Likewise, Klipstein noted that “overall, the balance supports vaccination as soon as possible while contemplating a pregnancy or during early pregnancy.”
Klipstein, who is also a reproductive endocrinology and infertility physician at InVia Fertility Specialists in Chicago, said although pregnant women were excluded from the original trials, ongoing studies “will provide further reassurance.”
For example, back in February Pfizer announced approximately 4,000 healthy pregnant women 18 years and older received their second dose at 24 to 34 weeks of gestation and would be monitored for seven to ten months.
Acknowledging the vaccine hesitancy amongst women of childbearing age, Klipstein said: “I have a number of patients who are concerned about the effects of vaccination on their fertility.”
MYTH 5: The vaccine makes you sterile
The Sun contacted J&J and Moderna for comment and did not receive a response at the time of publication.
A Pfizer spokesperson confirmed their vaccine “has not been found to cause infertility” and like Pallock, debunked the sterilization theory.
“It has been incorrectly suggested that Covid-19 vaccines will cause infertility because of a shared amino acid sequence in the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 and a placental protein,” the company said.
“The sequence, however, is too short to plausibly give rise to autoimmunity. Additionally, a cohort study comparing the outcomes of pregnancies with and without intercurrent SARS-CoV-2 infection shows no difference in outcomes, further debunking the theory.”
Pfizer’s Phase 3 clinical trial includes more than 44,000 people who will be monitored for two years after their second dose; the company noted that although expectant mothers weren’t included, some women fell pregnant during the trial.
CDC spokesperson Martha Sharan said there is currently “no evidence that any vaccines, including Covid-19 vaccines, cause female or male fertility problems – problems getting pregnant.”
“The CDC does not recommend routine pregnancy testing before COVID-19 vaccination. If you are trying to become pregnant, you do not need to avoid pregnancy after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine,” Sharan said.
It has been incorrectly suggested that Covid-19 vaccines will cause infertility because of a shared amino acid sequence.
“Like with all vaccines, scientists are studying COVID-19 vaccines carefully for side effects now and will report findings as they become available.”
The agency said there are currently no studies on vaccine hesitancy among those of childbearing age due to fertility concerns at present but are planning a number of studies in the future.
However, Sharan did point to a CDC study which found that a higher percentage of women aged 18-39 “indicated they probably or definitely would not get vaccinated compared to men (27.4 percent versus 22.3 percent, with no other significant differences in vaccination status or intent by gender).”
“CDC’s analysis found that safety was of concern for the entire age group, but CDC did not dig into the specific safety concerns, like infertility,” she added.
Meanwhile, Pollack referenced fertility doctors and obstetrician-gynecologists (OB-GYN) on a “fertility journey” themselves who have chosen to get the vaccine.
“Are there any OB-GYNs or fertility doctors that are pregnant and get the vaccine or [intend to get pregnant] and get the vaccine?
“The answer is yes, there are,” she concluded.
“And those are probably our most informed population.”
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