Have you sat in an exam room looking at one of those full-color posters showing all the organs, blood vessels, and nerves in the human body and thought, “How incredibly complicated we are! It’s amazing that our bodies work so well!” And that’s only what we can see. Deep in our cells, where the processes of life happen, we are truly miraculous!
This is where viruses make us sick by interfering with normal functions, and where one of life’s greatest miracles occurs. Our immune systems respond with special cells to stop viruses from reproducing and causing more damage. The immune system “remembers” the invader and reacts quickly if it sees that virus again. It’s nature’s version of “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Unfortunately, sometimes infections kill before the immune system can save us, or they cause permanent damage before we recover. This is where vaccines come in. Each is designed to look like a specific virus to the immune system, which responds by making fighter cells that “fit” that virus. Vaccine immunity has several advantages over natural immunity. You don’t have to get sick and risk dying to become immune! Vaccine immunity may last longer than natural immunity, and you can’t get the disease from the vaccine because it only looks like the virus it blocks.
Without question, vaccines are a bargain!
We all hesitate to put something unnatural into our bodies. What if it makes us sick in a different way? We see the endless drug commercials with their endless lists of side effects. What if the vaccine changes something in our bodies that should not be changed?
To be approved for use, vaccines must be reasonably safe. This means that side effects are relatively rare. The fact that side effects can happen does not mean that they will. Side effects must be mild, or at least, less severe than the disease. If the risk from the disease is much higher than risks from the vaccine, which is true of COVID-19, it seems clear: take the shot! Sure, risk is a slippery fish, but if you ask anyone suffering from long COVID, or if you could ask someone who has died from COVID-19 if they wish they had gotten the vaccine, I doubt that any of them would say no.
Still, uncertainty is unsettling. The unknown can be scary. Perhaps this is why rumors that COVID vaccines might somehow cause infertility have led so many young women to take a wait-and-see approach. Bringing new life into the world is one of the most profoundly satisfying and rewarding experiences a woman can have. In a different way, fathering a child is equally gratifying. This fundamental human experience is not to be risked lightly. Not getting the shot might be reasonable if COVID vaccines were at all likely to make us unable to have children.
Fortunately, the opposite is true. COVID vaccines do not affect fertility.
Worries about COVID vaccines causing infertility are based on misunderstandings. Messenger RNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) do not change the DNA in our cells. They can’t. Remember, they trick the immune system by looking like the coronavirus. They stimulate the body’s natural response. They never reach the cell’s nucleus where our DNA is stored. They don’t change anything.
The vaccines do not prevent pregnancy by affecting the placenta. A key protein in human placentas slightly resembles the vaccine’s target, the spike protein that is the virus’s “key card” for access. The amount of material that is the same in the two proteins is so small that there is almost zero chance of the immune system confusing them. It only attacks the coronavirus.
Other concerns include changes in women’s periods and lower sperm counts in men. Both can happen in response to various illnesses and physical stresses, but no such problems unique to COVID vaccination have been seen.
Sometimes no news is good news. Despite millions of people having been vaccinated, no effects on fertility have been reported. Few, if any, ill effects were reported in women who became pregnant during the trials.
On the other hand, pregnant women who get COVID-19 are more likely than non-pregnant women to need hospitalization, to be placed on ventilators, or to die. Their babies are also likelier to have problems.
Don’t make such an important decision based on hearsay or rumor. Don’t make it alone. Consult respected sources such as ACOG, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, whose guidance states that “claims linking COVID-19 vaccines to infertility are unfounded and have no scientific evidence supporting them. ACOG recommends vaccination for all eligible people who may consider future pregnancy.”
Talk it over with your doctor. Make the best decision for you and your family.
Michael Heyd, a retired medical librarian from Fairfield Township who spent more than forty years searching the literature for professional hospital staf, is a member of Let’s end COVID!