Misinformation targeting pregnant people about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines has spread dramatically Credit: Thiago Borges/Pexels photo

As the novel COVID-19 virus progressed at dangerous rates with the threat of a new variant emergence in 2020, a not so novel anti-vaccine myth emerged that targeted a particularly vulnerable group: those who are wanting to become or are pregnant. In the midst of the first COVID-19 vaccines receiving emergency authorization, misinformation was circulating on social media, falsely claiming that the COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility. One false claim was attributed to a discredited former head of Pfizer research alleging a mechanism through which the vaccine causes infertility. Unsubstantiated reports such as these have fueled COVID vaccine hesitancy and misinformation, instilling fear and uncertainty in individuals who want to get pregnant or who are currently pregnant. 

When asked why vaccine misinformation like this finds credibility, Dr. Taraneh Shirazian, MD, director of the division of global women’s health in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine said, “Vaccine misinformation may [seem] credible for some individuals due to political reasons, social reasons, and the individualization of the United States spread within social media.” The unattributed example of misinformation spread the rumor that the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines can train the female body to attack the placental protein called syncytin-1, which causes infertility. However, there is no data to support this argument. 

According to Dr. Shirazian, “The vaccine or virus has no affinity to the placental protein. The mRNA vaccine is simply a code that teaches cells to create antibodies without exposure to the virus.” In addition, there is no concrete evidence that suggests that the COVID-19 vaccine will have any effect on fertility; individuals who are planning or trying to get pregnant can and should receive the vaccine.” 

While the widespread use of mRNA vaccines are fairly new, it is important to note that human trial studies using mRNA vaccine have been conducted since 2006. Despite the plethora of research conducted on debunking the myth that vaccines cause infertility, according to a KFF report, nearly three-in-ten of surveyed U.S. adults believe or are unsure whether COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to cause infertility. Moreover, researcher Abbasi finds that about a third of pregnant adults in the U.S. still remain unvaccinated as of early February 2022. This is particularly concerning as the communities at risk are mainly the marginalized and minoritized, due to the historical mistreatment and long-standing disparities

In order to tackle vaccine misinformation and mitigate people’s mistrust of healthcare providers, “healthcare providers need to have more dialogue around healthcare and vaccines, go into communities with health education programs, and uplift individuals to make their own choices and find places that will provide the appropriate resources needed,” stated Dr. Shirazian.

Many pregnant people incorrectly do not think that receiving the vaccine is necessary, due to a multitude of different reasons. One reason is that some individuals may be wary due to the fact that the vaccine itself can change the menstrual cycle

“Any new change introduced into the body will cause a disturbance, requiring the body to accommodate. Additionally, changes in the menstrual cycle does not equate [to] changes in fertility” said Dr. Shirazian. 

Another reason is that people may think because they already had COVID-19, they may have immunity from the virus. However, the latest trends show that many people are becoming reinfected due to the prevalence of different viral strains as well as the prolonged stay of the virus. Previous exposure to one strain of COVID-19 does not necessarily mean that someone will be immune against future reinfections, but receiving the vaccine and getting boosted can better protect an individual and can mitigate the negative health effects that are experienced if someone tests positive. “In addition, the antibodies that the mother generates through being vaccinated can be passed onto the newborn,” states Dr. Shirazian. Therefore, to build immunity from COVID-19 in a newborn infant, the mother should get vaccinated.

With the evolution of the virus, Dr. Laith Abu-Raddad, an infectious disease epidemiologist studying COVID-19 reinfection patterns from Weill Cornell Medicine at Qatar, said in an interview, “There is strong immune evasion that reduces protection from the virus at 50% or more. As the virus is evolving and new strains emerge, immune evasion increases.” Because of this, “receiving a vaccination with the booster is the most effective way to protect yourself from reinfection, in addition to using masks and social distancing,” Dr. Abu-Raddad added. 

Pregnant people are a very vulnerable group, as the body is undergoing change, and should get vaccinated in order to build protection against severe symptoms and resistance from the virus—for them and their newborns. If you are pregnant or considering getting pregnant and have doubts about the impact of a COVID-19 vaccine you should speak with your doctor or a qualified medical professional to get the facts. To get a vaccination or booster, visit https://covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/ or call 1-833-NYS-4-VAX (1-833-697-4829). These and other resources can also be accessed on the AmNews’ COVID-19 page: www.amsterdamnews.com/covid/

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