Addressing fertility questions and concerns with the COVID-19 vaccine

UAB experts explain why women should not have concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine’s impacting their fertility goals.

Back, woman and baby are using the Lactation Center to breastfeed in the Women and Infants Center (WIC), 2018.UAB experts explain why women should not have concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine’s impacting their fertility goals.As more data and information become known about the COVID-19 vaccinations available to the public, more questions arise from specific populations about how the vaccine could potentially impact their health.

For women of child-bearing age and those wishing to pursue pregnancy in the near future, weighing the risks and benefits of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine are a top priority. Is there any reason to have concerns about the vaccine’s impact on fertility? Two University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine experts explain why the vaccine is a safe and effective way to protect oneself from COVID-19, regardless of fertility aspirations.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for women interested in getting pregnant? 

In a joint statement from leading women’s reproductive professional organizations the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, experts say:

“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.”

Deidre Gunn, M.D., assistant professor and fertility specialist in UAB’s Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, echoes the organizations’ statement and agrees there is no reason to believe that the vaccine would be harmful to pregnant or lactating women or to those trying to conceive.

“Based on the available data — in both humans and in animals — the vaccine does not affect fertility, but it does significantly lower the risk of COVID infection and the risk of severe complications from COVID,” Gunn said. “Individual circumstances may vary, and patients should talk to their doctors about any questions or concerns; but in general, the benefits of the COVID vaccine outweigh the risks for most pregnant women and women trying to conceive.”

Gunn notes that, although pregnant women were not included in the first vaccine trials, some women did become pregnant during the study period; in fact, a similar number got pregnant after receiving the vaccine as those who got the placebo, suggesting that there was no adverse effect on fertility.

Similarly, Jodie Dionne-Odom, M.D., associate director of Global Health in the UAB Center for Women’s Reproductive Health and infectious diseases consultant on the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s COVID-19 Task Force, explains that misinformation can be a factor in why women are objecting the vaccine, if eligible.

“Some women are hearing dangerous myths about the COVID-19 vaccine,” Dionne-Odom said. “In response to misinformation, I find it helpful to be direct and clear: There is no scientific data that supports a link between COVID-19 vaccine and changes in fertility. When I talk to women who are interested in becoming pregnant now or down the road, I strongly encourage COVID-19 vaccination since it offers the best protection.”

For women who anticipate becoming pregnant in the next few months or near future, both Gunn and Dionne-Odom caution that the risk of COVID-19 infection during pregnancy could be more detrimental to a woman’s health, a risk that receiving the COVID-19 vaccine could prevent.

“COVID infection is much more dangerous for pregnant women compared to women the same age who are not pregnant,” Gunn said. “If you get COVID while pregnant, you are much more likely to be in the ICU, on a ventilator, with a higher risk of death. There is also a higher risk of preterm birth and related complications. Knowing that the benefit of vaccination outweighs the potential risk of infection complications should give those contemplating pregnancy a sense of relief. We have the protection we need; it is important to encourage those who are healthy and eligible to become inoculated.”

Notably, Gunn adds that preliminary vaccine evidence is starting to suggest that a woman who receives the vaccine during pregnancy actually passes on helpful antibodies to the baby.