Busting the COVID-19 Vaccine and Infertility Myth

Infertility_Adene Sanchez/Getty Images

Adene Sanchez/Getty Images

It’s not the COVID-19 vaccine that will get you, say reproduction experts. It’s the virus, SARS-CoV-2, that may cause infertility.

“There is evidence to suggest that infection with SARS-CoV-2 has the potential to impact both male fertility, female fertility, and certainly the health of a pregnancy of someone infected,” Dr. Jennifer Kawwass, a reproductive endocrinologist and associate professor at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta told NBC News. “And there is simultaneously no evidence that the vaccine has any negative impact on male or female fertility.”

Despite this striking lack of scientific evidence and the official recommendation of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  that “all pregnant people or people who are thinking about becoming pregnant” get vaccinated, the myth persists and is a concern listed by the vaccine-hesitant.

The real cause for concern is the virus, Kawwass explained, and it lies in the fact that both male and female reproductive organs contain cell receptors the virus targets. These include ACE-2, TMPRSS2, and CD147, all found in the cells of the testes, epididymis, prostate, seminal vesicles and ovarian follicles, and all known to be major SARS-CoV-2 entry factors.

While the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and the disease it causes, continue to be an enigma, there is precedent for viral infections—such as the human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV—being linked to infertility. SARS-CoV-2, of course, is a respiratory virus, but real-world evidence has demonstrated that its effects are not limited to the respiratory system. Recognized symptoms of long COVID—running rampant in the recovered—include fatigue, cognitive problems, shortness of breath, or racing heartbeat. 

Also, the high fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit for at least three days associated with active COVID-19 has been said to cause infertility, particularly in men.

“We know quite a lot about viruses, flus, and male infertility,” said reproductive urologist Dr. Paul Turek. “Seasonal flus are known to reduce male fertility … We think that it’s due to the fever associated with the illness, which overheats the testicles.” Turek went on to reassure readers that the effect was believed to be temporary.

“Any infection, particularly an infection that involves fever, can affect sperm production and can affect ovulation,” said Dr. Marcelle Cedars, a reproductive endocrinologist and director of the University of California, San Francisco Center for Reproductive Health. She told NBC News that there is no evidence that COVID-19 would be different from that.

While a study of 230 women of childbearing age infected with COVID-19 did not identify significant variations compared to the control group, Northwestern University Endocrinologist and Associate Professor Dr. Eve Feinberg said, “When I think about fertility, I think about what is the likelihood that a couple will take home a healthy baby. There is no question in my mind, or any scientist’s mind, that the highest likelihood of having a healthy baby during this pandemic is by getting vaccinated.”

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