CHICAGO — Dr. Eve Feinberg proactively brings up the COVID-19 vaccine with patients who are hoping to get pregnant, in order to get ahead of misinformation about the inoculation.
Dr. Jennifer Hirshfeld-Cytron has written blog posts with headlines straight to the point, like “The COVID-19 vaccine won’t cause infertility.”
Doctors who specialize in pregnancy and fertility are coming out in full force against vaccine-related misinformation that falsely connects the vaccine and infertility, educating their patients of childbearing age and urging them to educate themselves with reliable sources.
“I very much feel as a physician, as a leader, we have to be vaccine ambassadors and educate the public,” said Feinberg, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern’s medical school. “We need to really dispel a lot of anti-vaccine propaganda out there.”
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists last month put out a statement assuring patients that “there is no evidence that the vaccine can lead to loss of fertility.”
Experts point out that the COVID-19 vaccines have nothing to do with the reproductive system, and that the vaccines do not use live viruses or alter human DNA. But they stress that the danger of contracting COVID-19 when pregnant is real, including increased risk of hospitalization, premature delivery and other delivery complications. The CDC has added pregnancy to its list of conditions that are deemed high risk.
“You take a healthy 30-year-old with zero risk factors … she becomes pregnant and now she has a risk factor,” said Hirshfeld-Cytron, a reproductive endocrinologist with Fertility Centers of Illinois.
Still, doctors continue to field questions from patients in their 20s and 30s who are concerned about the vaccine impacting their fertility, driven by misinformation spread online. At least one viral image falsely claimed that a protein in the vaccine could make women infertile.
“There is no basis of that in science,” Feinberg said of that post. “That planted a lot of doubt and … in an age where things go viral, that blog post did a lot of damage.”
A study on vaccine hesitancy from the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that about 12 percent of people who heard the myth about the vaccine and infertility either believed it or were unsure.
Feinberg also noted that women may be fearful because of a “bad history” of unsafe medications given to pregnant women in the past, like thalidomide, which caused birth defects in children after it was given to pregnant women in the 1950s and ’60s to treat morning sickness.
But doctors assure people that it is safe to take the vaccine.
“There’s nothing in the mechanism or action of the currently available mRNA vaccines that suggest any impact on fertility,” said Dr. Sigal Klipstein, a fertility specialist at InVia Fertility, which has offices in the Chicago area. “It doesn’t affect the ovaries or reproductive system.”
Klipstein also pointed out that though the vaccine came about quickly, “all of the regular safeguards” were implemented.
Though pregnant women were not included in vaccine trials, the CDC and medical associations have said that pregnant women should not be denied vaccine due to the risk posed by getting COVID-19 during pregnancy.
“If you are trying to get pregnant, right now is an excellent time to become vaccinated,” Klipstein said.
Story by Madeline Buckley, Chicago Tribune