It can be difficult to separate fact from fiction when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines, particularly in relation to fertility and reproductive health.
UBC’s Dr. Deborah Money, professor in the faculty of medicine’s department of obstetrics and gynaecology, busts some of the many myths circulating about the vaccines’ impact on fertility.
Myth #1: The COVID-19 vaccines haven’t been tested for pregnant people or those trying to conceive
Since the start of the COVID-19 vaccine roll out, thousands of pregnant women from around the world have received the vaccine and their outcomes are being actively monitored.
Here in Canada, COVID-19 vaccine outcomes in approximately 40,000 pregnant individuals in Ontario show no pattern of adverse pregnancy outcomes and a low rate of preterm birth. In addition, while analysis is still pending, early data from the Canadian COVID-19 Vaccine Registry for Pregnant and Lactating Individuals (COVERED), a national survey on COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy being led out of UBC, is showing no safety concerns.
In the United States, more than 160,000 women have received a COVID-19 vaccine. Findings from those in their tracking system were published earlier this summer in the New England Journal of Medicine and showed no differences in side effects due to the vaccine and no adverse pregnancy outcomes. The University of Washington more recently published vaccine survey data with no increases in adverse events in pregnancy associated with the vaccines.
Myth #2: The COVID-19 vaccines cause miscarriages
In the original vaccine trials, not only were there no differences in the numbers of conceptions between participants in the control and vaccinated groups, but there was also no difference in the number of miscarriages.
Based on the latest research, there is no reason to believe the COVID-19 vaccine could increase the risk of a miscarriage.
Myth #3: COVID-19 vaccines damage the placenta
This statement is false – it rests on the belief that after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, the body’s immune system might attack a key protein, known as syncytin-1, which is necessary for the placenta’s formation.
There is also a claim circulating that the spike protein of the COVID-19 virus and syncytin-1 are so similar that the immune system might mistake one for the other. The reality is these proteins are structurally quite different and do not cause the immune system to respond to placental proteins when responding to the viral spike protein. In addition, the mRNA and the spike protein made from this message do not circulate widely. Rather it triggers the local immune cells to make antibodies against the spike protein and these antibodies circulate and pass to the fetus, providing protection after delivery.
Myth #4: mRNA vaccine technology hasn’t been tested long enough to know if it causes infertility
The first human trial of an mRNA vaccine began in 2006, giving researchers almost 15 years of follow-up data.
While mRNA is a relatively new technology compared to other vaccine delivery methods, there have been numerous human trials using mRNA vaccines for Influenza, HIV-1, Zika, Ebola and rabies virus well before the COVID-19 pandemic.
There has been no evidence suggesting long-term fertility concerns arising from the use of mRNA vaccines based on current research.
Myth #5: mRNA vaccines change your DNA and could impact fertility
mRNA does not affect DNA and never enters the nucleus where human DNA is stored.
The mRNA in vaccines is only briefly in the body and used by our cells as an instruction message to create the spike protein. The mRNA is then rapidly destroyed.
The known risks of COVID-19 to pregnant people are severe. In Canada, we’re seeing increased rates of hospitalization (four times) and increased rates of intensive care admissions (more than two and a half times) among pregnant individuals with COVID-19 compared to non-pregnant individuals in their reproductive years. We’re also seeing more premature births (two times) among pregnant individuals with COVID-19.
The Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology of Canada (SOGC) strongly recommends those who are pregnant or are planning a pregnancy receive the COVID-19 vaccines—they are the best way to prevent infection, and protect yourself and others.
UBC has launched a national COVID-19 vaccine registry to monitor the attitudes, safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines among those who are pregnant and lactating. To learn more or to register to take part, visit covered.med.ubc.ca.
For more information about COVID-19 vaccines and fertility, see the Women’s Health Research Cluster blog post for the original article.