Let’s Bust All The Myths About The COVID Vaccine & Fertility
Here’s what doctors want women who are TTC or eventually want to become pregnant to know.
Prioritizing your personal health and safety during a global pandemic is non-negotiable. But when you’re trying to conceive — or thinking about the future and your fertility — things can get complicated. The COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to be both very effective and very safe, but misconceptions and myths about how vaccines affect fertility have some people with lingering concerns about getting it. (Spoiler alert: If you feel that fear, you’re not alone, but there’s no evidence that you have anything to be worried about.)
The vaccines are still new, but experts are in agreement that all three of the current COVID-19 vaccines safe for people who plan to become pregnant — whether that’s now or later on in life. “To date, there is no evidence that the COVID vaccine has a negative impact on fertility,” Dr. Cary L. Dicken, RMA Long Island IVF tells Romper. “No loss of fertility was reported by any of the vaccine clinical trial participants, nor is it being reported by those currently receiving the vaccine.” (While the early vaccine trails did not enroll pregnant people, several became pregnant after receiving their doses.)
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated their vaccine recommendations to conclude, “There is currently no evidence that any vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, cause fertility problems.”
While this is all reassuring, it’s also worth taking a look at how vaccines work and what doctors have to say about safety, efficacy, and the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 vaccines on fertility.
Vaccine Safety Recommendations When TTC
Vaccines are already a routine part of pre-natal care. Vaccines that are considered safe during pregnancy are typically administered when they can protect the mother and her child from contracting a communicable disease or virus. “The purpose of preconception care is to optimize the health of the planned pregnancy and minimize risks to the pregnant patient, fetus, and newborn,” says Dr. Michael Cackovic, a maternal fetal medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Anyone planning a pregnancy should have their immunization status verified for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap); measles–mumps–rubella (MMR); hepatitis B; and varicella. “MMR, influenza during flu season and varicella — chickenpox — should be given at least one month before conception,” he says.
The good news for women who wish to become pregnant is that the COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any live virus, which would typically be contraindicated during pregnancy. “Because the vaccine does not contain actual virus, there is no reason to delay pregnancy attempts after vaccination and no evidence that vaccination before or during fertility treatment will impact the outcome of treatment in any way,” Cackovic says.
Fertility & Vaccine Hesitancy
Concerns about vaccines and fertility are nothing new — they’re far older than COVID itself. Historically, there have been instances of the general public questioning the safety and efficacy of a vaccine (especially in the age of social media) based on misinformation or rumors.
For example, in 2018, one study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health linked the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to infertility, causing a stir of public concern. The study was later retracted, and subsequent studies, including one published in 2020 that examined the vaccine over the course of a 10-year period, have found no association between the HPV vaccine and infertility. Currently, the CDC recommends the HPV vaccine for anyone ages 11 to 26, stating, “There is no current evidence that HPV vaccines cause reproductive problems in women.” The lingering doubts, fueled by that first study, remain however.
As more people across the U.S. get the COVID-19 vaccine, stories circulating on social media about vaccine side effects and fertility have become common, but these anecdotes are being quickly debunked by experts. Back in December, multiple news outlets first addressed increasing concerns that the “spike” protein in the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines could negatively affect fertility, including a New York Times report that concluded that “no evidence” exists to substantiate the claims.
More recently, a USA Today fact-check issued a false flag warning on the notion that simply being around someone who has gotten the COVID-19 vaccine can cause a miscarriage or changes to a woman’s menstrual cycle. There is currently no evidence that getting the vaccine will cause a miscarriage. While post-vaccine menstrual cycle changes have been anecdotally reported by women who have themselves received the jab or have been infected with COVID-19, scientific studies have not specifically addressed a link between the two occurrences.
COVID-19 Vaccine Studies & Research
It’s true that there’s more we have to learn, but all early indicators are that the COVID-19 vaccines are very safe. “Unfortunately, fertility was not specifically studied in the COVID vaccine clinical trials,” says Dicken. “However, no loss of fertility has been reported among trial participants or among the millions who have received the vaccines to date. In addition, no signs of infertility appeared in animal studies.”
Although pregnant women were not included in the COVID-19 vaccine’s initial clinical trials, the CDC reported that vaccine manufacturers “found no safety concerns” in animal studies of the vaccine when the shot was administered to animals before or during pregnancy.
Romper previously reported on a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology of 131 women who received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine and reported side effects through the CDC’s V-Safe tracker. The study, although small, concluded that there was no increased risk of side effects for women who were pregnant or lactating.
While research continues and additional data is still being collected regarding vaccine safety and efficacy, multiple maternal and reproductive health organizations, as well as physicians who work with patients daily, continue to bolster the notion that vaccination does not negatively impact fertility or pregnancy. “Patients that are planning pregnancy should adhere to the CDC guidelines and receive the COVID vaccine as soon as you are eligible,” Cakcovic says. “Not only is the vaccine critical to stopping the pandemic, but key and essential to pregnancy health.”
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine (SMFM) released a joint statement on vaccine safety in February 2021 that stated in part:
“As experts in reproductive health, we continue to recommend that the vaccine be available to pregnant individuals. We also assure patients that there is no evidence that the vaccine can lead to loss of fertility. 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. Loss of fertility is scientifically unlikely.”
What About COVID Vaccines & Future Fertility?
It’s true that no one can definitively say what the long-term effects of the vaccine may be — we are still, after all, in the first months of its widespread use. However, when weighing the risks of contracting COVID-19 with potential long-term side effects of the vaccine, experts agree that the benefits of the vaccines outweigh any risks.
And if you’re younger and aren’t quite ready to think about kids yet, it’s worth noting that experts have repeatedly said they are not concerned with any potential long-term impacts that could hurt your chances of conceiving later on.
What they are sure about is that COVID-19 can be a clear threat to pregnant people. “There is sound data that suggests that pregnancy is a high risk factor for developing severe illness should an individual contract COVID-19 — meaning if a pregnant individual contracts COVID-19, they are more likely to have severe symptoms and possibly require hospitalization compared to an individual who is not pregnant,” Dicken tells Romper. “There is presently no data of any adverse effects of the vaccine on an individual’s fertility. At this time, I do feel the benefit of vaccination outweighs any unknown risk.”
As with any healthcare decision, you should consult your doctor to determine the best course of action for you. But for now, experts want women to be reassured that the vaccine is in no way a risk to current and future fertility.
“No one should be concerned at this point about safety or effects on fertility,” Cackovic says. “Personally, I have seen too many pregnancy complications and adverse outcomes with COVID to think otherwise. As always with pregnancy, we counsel patients with regard to risk and benefit and the benefit of COVID protection outweighs any theoretical risk in pregnancy.”
Schmuhl, N. B., Mooney, K. E., Zhang, X., Cooney, L. G., Conway, J. H., & LoConte, N. K. (2020, May 19). No association between HPV vaccination and infertility in U.S. females 18-33 years old. Vaccine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7255493/.
Additional informationFundingThe study was supported by Wasserman Endowment at Baruch College. (n.d.). RETRACTED ARTICLE: [A lowered probability of pregnancy in females in the USA aged 25–29 who received a human papillomavirus vaccine injection]. Taylor & Francis. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15287394.2018.1477640.
Dr. Cary L. Dicken, RMA Long Island IVF
Dr. Michael Cackovic, maternal fetal medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center