Tampa Bay Times

Experts debunk rumor about shots, infertilit­y

Despite a recent viral claim, there is no evidence the vaccines affect pregnancy.

- BY MEGAN REEVES Times Staff Writer

With millions of Floridians newly eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, a persistent myth is keeping some women from getting in line.

The claim that the vaccines affect fertility has been circulatin­g for months. But experts — from local doctors, to medical groups, to government officials — say there is no evidence to support it.

The issue has particular relevance this week as women in their teens, 20s and 30s became eligible for shots in Florida.

“If you are trying to become pregnant now or want to get pregnant in the future, you may receive a COVID-19 vaccine,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in March.

Three leading profession­al organizati­ons put out a similar statement a month earlier, assuring that “there is no evidence that the vaccine can lead to infertilit­y.” The joint affirmatio­n was issued by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologi­sts, the American Society for Reproducti­ve Medicine and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine.

“While fertility was not specifical­ly studied in the clinical trials of the vaccine, no loss of fertility has

been reported among trial participan­ts or among the millions who have received the vaccines since their authorizat­ion, and no signs of infertilit­y appeared in animal studies,” the statement read. “Loss of fertility is scientific­ally unlikely.”

Still, misinforma­tion on the topic has spread widely across the United States since the drugs started rolling out. And many doctors agree on where the myth originated.

Two European anti-vaccine activists sent a letter to the European Medicines Agency in December, alleging without evidence that the drugs would render women infertile, Reuters reported. Though experts and regulators spoke out against the claims, the erroneous informatio­n found its way to millions through social media, experts say.

“It was very disappoint­ing to the medical community,” said Dr. Katherine Apostolaki­s-Kyrus, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.

The letter didn’t come from doctors specializi­ng in infectious diseases or fertility. But it has proved to be enough to convince people who were already hesitant about the vaccines or have plans to get pregnant, including some working in the medical field, she said.

In January, the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit focused on national health issues, released the results of a survey that found 13 percent of unvaccinat­ed Americans had heard that “COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to cause infertilit­y.”

“It has spread so widely,” said University of South Florida fertility specialist Dr. Anthony Imudia. “And the truth is that the wider spread this informatio­n is, the more people are going to believe it.”

Imudia read the letter by the European activists and said they wrongly explained that the vaccines could affect a protein called syncytin-1, which is important to placenta developmen­t when, in fact, the vaccines do not interact with that protein at all.

For Apostolaki­s-Kyrus, there are four major reasons the claim is false:

First, the immune system is smart, she said. It can tell the difference between the immunoacid­s that make up the spike protein the vaccines are meant to attack, and those that make up syncytin-1. The letter alleged that the antibodies created by the vaccines would wrongly attack syncytin-1, too, but there is no evidence of that, Apostolaki­s-Kyrus said.

Second, no women have been found to have fertility problems after being vaccinated. Though clinical trials for the vaccines did not set out to include pregnant women, 36 of the participan­ts became pregnant during the studies for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, Apostolaki­s-Kyrus said. Three who received the placebo instead of the actual vaccines had miscarriag­es, while those who received the vaccines did not.

Third, many women have been infected with COVID19, which gives people the same spike protein as the vaccines. But there have not been reported increases in miscarriag­es or infertilit­y, Apostolaki­s-Kyrus said.

About 128 million people have been infected worldwide, with about half being women. Of those 64 million people, about 40 percent are in their childbeari­ng years, and typically about 5 percent of that population is pregnant, she said. That means about 1.25 million pregnant women have contracted the coronaviru­s without any sort of evidence that more of them have had unsuccessf­ul pregnancie­s.

Last, the coronaviru­s vaccines are being studied in animals, and they have shown no increases in infertilit­y, stillbirth, birth defects or miscarriag­e, Apostolaki­s-Kyrus said.

She and Imudia agree that the coronaviru­s itself poses a greater risk to women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant than the vaccines. Women who are already pregnant are more likely to experience severe symptoms with the disease, experts have found.

“If you have COVID-19 infection and your lungs are compromise­d, pregnancy is going to be difficult,” Imudia said. That’s because as the uterus gets bigger, the diaphragm rises, and lung capacity decreases, Apostolaki­s-Kyrus explained.

At the same time, a woman’s body is learning to prioritize the baby it’s carrying, she said. “Women have decreased immune response because we don’t want to harm the baby. Our body’s immune response goes down, and we are not as strong as fighting infection if we get sick.”

 ?? DIRK SHADD | Times ?? Floridians 18 and older are now eligible to get COVID-19 vaccines at sites like this one in Largo. False rumors about fertility have caused concerns among some women.
DIRK SHADD | Times Floridians 18 and older are now eligible to get COVID-19 vaccines at sites like this one in Largo. False rumors about fertility have caused concerns among some women.
 ??  ?? Dr. Katherine Apostolaki­s-Kyrus
Dr. Katherine Apostolaki­s-Kyrus
 ??  ?? Dr. Anthony Imudia
Dr. Anthony Imudia

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