The COVID-19 vaccines are on their way to becoming a key tool in the fight against the pandemic: Getting vaccinated gives you immunity to the virus, helping to stop the spread and keep everyone safe. That's why it's so important for everyone to get the shots — and why the myths circulating about the vaccines, including that they can cause infertility or aren't safe for pregnant people, are so harmful.
"There are a lot of people that are worried about the vaccine and vaccine safety, and I think that's a result of how much misinformation that was put out there," Iahn Gonsenhauser, MD, chief quality and patient safety officer at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Refinery29. While most Americans are willing to receive a vaccine, 27% of people are still hesitant, found a December Kaiser Family Foundation survey. Many of those people are afraid about possible side effects, the survey showed, despite health officials emphasizing the safety of the vaccines.
One widely shared Facebook post called the COVID vaccine "female sterilization." It contains a spike protein known as syncytin-1, the post said, which is important in creating the placenta. The post claims that the vaccine will cause people to form an immune response against that particular spike protein, causing fertility issues. Dr. Gonsenhauser says, "That's simply, completely false."
"There is no evidence to suggest that this vaccine would affect fertility and this is not a reason to not get the vaccine," says Abisola Olulade, MD, a family medicine physician based in San Diego.
Another false and fear-mongering Facebook post — this one shared by a naturopath — says that "they" don't want women in the Moderna trials to conceive a month after the second dose of the vaccine. The naturopath concluded that this means the vaccine is unsafe to be given to pregnant women, but again, there's no evidence to back up these claims.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention gave the go-ahead for pregnant people, and those trying to get pregnant, to receive the vaccine, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists echoes that, recommending that COVID-19 vaccines "not be withheld" from pregnant individuals who meet criteria for vaccination, and should be offered to breastfeeding people too.
There is limited data about the safety of receiving COVID vaccinations during pregnancy. Pregnant people are typically excluded from clinical trials due to concerns about harming the fetus (although many argue that keeping pregnant people out of trials leads to their health needs being underrepresented). Twenty-three of the participants in Pfizer's trial became pregnant over the course of the study, but that's too small of a sample to tell us much. Dr. Olulade says that people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to become pregnant should talk to their doctor before getting the vaccine (everyone should!). "Ultimately it’s about weighing the risks of the unknown when it comes to the vaccine in pregnant women versus the known dangerous risks of COVID."
"There's a lot of data that supports the increased risk that [pregnant people] bear from severe illness from COVID-19," Dr. Gonsenhauser adds. They're more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) and to require mechanical ventilation due to COVID-19. "From a risk-benefit perspective, there are very few risks that have been identified for pregnant women due to the vaccine and there are a lot of benefits that have been identified," he continues. If a pregnant person chooses not to get vaccinated, it's especially important for them to do everything else they can to stay safe, including social distancing and wearing a face covering when in public.
The vaccines carry some known side effects for the general public, including a fever, fatigue, headaches, and swelling at the injection site — similar to the effects of the flu vaccine. This week, the CDC released an analysis of nearly 2 million doses that showed just how uncommon more severe allergic reactions to the vaccine are: There were just 11.1 cases per a million administered doses. "At this point, we've had tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of people worldwide who have received the vaccines that are currently begin administered in the U.S," Dr. Gonsenhauser says. "They've been shown again and again to be safe and effective."
In the end, it's every individual's choice to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or not, and if you're concerned, talk to a reputable doctor about your own personal risk. But as the CDC states, we know that it can protect you from getting the virus and can help stop the pandemic in its tracks — and with reports of a new, very contagious COVID-19 super strain landing in the U.S., there's plenty of reason to want to halt the spread of the life-threatening virus as quickly as possible.