Will the COVID-19 vaccine affect fertility, menstruation? And other questions you may be asking
MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Misinformation about fertility and reproductive health is driving doubts about the COVID-19 vaccines among young people.
"Don’t let concerns about your future fertility be the reason you do not get vaccinated," said Dr. Ellen Hayes, medical director for the Vios Fertility Institute in Wauwatosa.
Hayes, a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist, said many patients have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine and that's understandable. She said there is currently no evidence to suggest getting the vaccine will affect someone's ability to get pregnant and have a family someday.
"Don't necessarily believe what you're seeing on social media. There are a lot of people talking about this on social media that aren't qualified to be talking about it," she said.
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine's official stance is: “COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for women who are contemplating pregnancy or who are pregnant in order to minimize risks to themselves and their pregnancy.”
Based on how the vaccines work in the body, experts believe they are unlikely to pose a risk for people who are pregnant. However, there are currently limited data on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says clinical trials that study the safety of COVID-19 vaccines and how well they work in pregnant people are underway or planned.
Dr. Michael Beninati, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist with UW Health, said some of the best data comes from the CDC's V-safe app, on which people can report any adverse effects from the vaccines.
"The initial data from the first 4,500 or probably close to 5,000 pregnant patients now who have tracked their symptoms with the v-safe app has shown that there's not an increase in stillbirth or congenital anomalies or pregnancy loss," Beninati said.
Evidence shows pregnant women who get COVID-19 can have more serious outcomes like hospitalizations than non-pregnant women.
"The risk of COVID seems to outweigh the risk of the vaccine, as far as we know right now," said Dr. Michael Beninati, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist with UW Health.
Some research suggests the vaccines even provide protection for newborns.
"We do now have several case reports in a early case series that have demonstrated the presence of antibodies in the umbilical cord blood, suggesting that ... fetuses and newborn babies are receiving passive immunity as a result of pregnant patient being vaccinated. So yes, we do think that there is a benefit to the baby in that direct fashion. And then in a more indirect fashion, keeping mom healthy will always be of benefit to the developing fetus," Beninati said.
We asked Dr. Hayes to debunk myths about fertility, reproductive health and menstruation as people are considering whether they should get the COVID-19 vaccine. Here's the conversation between Dr. Hayes and CBS 58 Reporter Rose Schmidt:
1. Do your patients have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine?
"I have a lot of patients with questions about COVID-19 because I think there are just still a lot of questions in general and especially related to pregnancy and trying for pregnancy and fertility. So what we know now is that our governing body called the American Society for Reproductive Medicine is recommending that women get the vaccine when they're trying for pregnancy and when they're pregnant. So there are some limitations surrounding particular fertility treatments where you don't necessarily want to be vaccinated the same day as your treatment. But otherwise, really across the board there recommending (the vaccine) at this point."
What do you tell patients who are hesitant about the vaccine?
"I tell them that at this point, there's certainly data to say that COVID-19 infections during pregnancy can be more serious, can result in hospitalizations, needing to be intubated, needing to be in the ICU more often than non-pregnant women. It's still a personal choice as to whether you get vaccinated, but what we know for sure is that it appears that COVID-19 is more serious in pregnancy, and it appears that the vaccine is safe in pregnancy. So weighing kind of the pros and cons, I'm recommending it for my patients."
Can the COVID-19 vaccine affect my ability to get pregnant?
"I think that there are just some people that are a little reluctant to get the vaccine because it's relatively new, but certainly there are some myths that are circulating on social media that are sort of propagating this idea that the vaccine can impair future fertility, and there's literally no data to support that. So we know that women who have had COVID-19 do not seem to be having any difficulty becoming pregnant after the infection, and it also appears that getting the vaccine does not lead to any problems getting pregnant or staying pregnant either. So I think that what people are basing this on is really not medical information. It's sort of conspiracy theories on social media unfortunately, but there's no data to back that up."
Where did the rumors about the COVID-19 vaccine and infertility come from?
"I would say don't necessarily believe what you're seeing on social media. There are a lot of people talking about this on social media that aren't qualified to be talking about it. The reason that this even became a myth that it does impact fertility is because there's a small amino acid sequence in the vaccine that is similar to a certain protein that's important for a placenta to attach in the uterus called syncytin-1, and actually what we see is that there's no medical basis to think that the vaccine in any way makes you form antibodies to this protein and would have any difficulty having a placenta implant and supporting the pregnancy in the future. So, I am suggesting that, of course, make your own decision. It's your right to refuse if you want to but we're suggesting that women of reproductive age and even teenage women (get) the vaccine."
Is there any truth to the idea that my menstrual cycle could be affected after getting the COVID-19 vaccine?
"Actually, there is some truth to potentially disrupting the menstrual cycle for a very short period of time. So we know that anytime a woman is sick, her body is under stress (and that) can have an impact on their menstrual cycle for the next you know, one, two, maybe three cycles. And so when women has COVID-19, it does appear that it disrupts their regularity of their menstrual cycle for about one to two months, and it appears that getting the vaccine can do the same. But it seems to be just an acute response of the immune system and not because there's any long-term impact on the ovaries."
If my menstrual cycle is affected by the COVID-19 vaccine, could that have an impact on my ability to get pregnant in the future?
"We are not seeing that has any impact on our pregnancy rates during fertility treatment cycles. A change in the menstrual cycle could be as simple as just simply ovulating -- you're releasing your egg a little earlier or later than you usually do. It doesn't necessarily mean that you couldn't get pregnant during that time. So it's not necessarily apples to apples to compare those two things, and we have no evidence to say that fertility is impaired."
You mentioned there are certain periods during fertility treatments when the vaccine is not recommended. Can you expand upon that?
"When we have patients who are undergoing fertility treatment like embryo transfer or intrauterine insemination, we usually don't want them to get the vaccine within three days before or after either of those treatment procedures, but otherwise, there really are no limitations."
Is there any evidence that a pregnant patient getting the COVID-19 vaccine could provide benefits to the fetus?
"Well, it definitely appears that there are antibodies transmitted to the baby -- probably during pregnancy and certainly in breast milk after delivery. And so any antibodies to COVID-19 in the newborn would be a good thing."
What about male fertility?
"We don't have any data to suggest that the COVID-19 vaccine will impair male fertility ... There is some data to set suggest that the COVID-19 infection can impair male fertility for about one to two months after infection. It doesn't necessarily depend on degree of infection, so it's not necessarily just men who are symptomatic or need to be hospitalized. It can have an effect on the motility of the sperm, the shape of the sperm and in some instances, the sperm count, but this appears to be really self limited to just the sperm that are being produced during the COVID-19 infection. Men are constantly producing sperm, so within about 72 days, they have a new batch of sperm that has not been exposed to the infection and so it would appear that those counts would recover."