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Local voices on COVID-19: We want to hear your COVID questions

May 11, 2021 05:18PM ● By Editor

By Maggie Farchmin, Sawtooth Mountain Clinic and Cook County Public Health

This article is the second in a series intended to give some local perspective on issues about COVID-19. They are also intended to help readers make an informed decision about the COVID-19 vaccines. We encourage suggestions for future topics and you can see how to do so at the end of the article.

Does the COVID-19 vaccine cause fertility problems?

There is a lot of information being shared on social media and on the internet about COVID-19 vaccines and fertility. One of the main concerns I have seen is about the possibility that the COVID-19 vaccine could cause a woman to have a miscarriage or have problems getting pregnant. This concern is based on a theory that the COVID-19 vaccine could cause the immune system to attack a specific protein (syncytin-1) in a woman’s placenta (which provides nourishment to an unborn baby as it grows in a mother’s body).  

Some people are concerned that syncytin-1 (the placenta protein) itself is included as one of the ingredients of the COVID-19 vaccine, and that the vaccine directly causes the immune system to attack the placenta. This concern is based on the idea that some people are purposely trying to cause women to become unable to have babies. However, the truth is that the ingredient lists for the COVID-19 vaccines used in the United States are publicly available in each vaccine’s Emergency Use Authorization Fact Sheet. None of the ingredients include syncytin-1.

Another concern some people have is that the COVID-19 vaccine could confuse the immune system into attacking the placenta protein. This concern is based on the idea that syncytin-1 looks similar to the spike protein that the COVID-19 vaccine creates. Because the COVID-19 vaccine teaches the immune system to attack the spike protein, some people have worried that it could also mistakenly teach the immune system to attack the placenta protein. The truth is that the two proteins have only a tiny section that is the same and are overall very different.  

Even so, there’s another important thing to think about regarding the placenta protein. If we are concerned about the immune response caused by COVID-19 vaccines, then we should also be concerned about the natural immune response caused by having the COVID-19 infection. Here’s why. The vaccine spike protein is modeled directly on the actual virus spike protein — so they are almost identical to each other. Regardless of how the immune system learns about the spike protein (either from getting the vaccine or having the COVID-19 infection), the immune system learns to attack the exact same kind of spike protein. This means the immune system would be just as likely to get confused and attack the placenta protein after the COVID-19 infection as after the vaccine. The truth is that there is no medical evidence that the placenta protein is affected by the COVID-19 vaccines or by the COVID-19 infection. 

Regardless, the most important thing to focus on is not a protein — the most important thing to focus on is, “will I be able to get pregnant and have a baby?” Because that’s what really matters.

Based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention V-Safe monitoring of women who have decided to get vaccinated so far, no problems with fertility or miscarriage have been found. And many women have become pregnant since being vaccinated. In addition, early information from the vaccine clinical trials showed that women who received the COVID-19 vaccine got pregnant just as often as those who did not get vaccinated. Interestingly, medical studies have reported that women who had the COVID-19 infection also did not have increased problems with fertility or miscarriage. Bottom line: There is no medical evidence that COVID-19 vaccines cause problems with fertility or miscarriage. Of course, more medical research on fertility, miscarriage, COVID-19 and the vaccines is needed, and I will be closely watching as that information becomes available.

Lastly, I want to emphasize that it’s important to feel confident about the health decisions you make, especially those decisions related to being able to have a baby. If you have any questions or concerns about COVID-19 vaccines, COVID-19 or your plans to get pregnant (now or in the future), make an appointment to see your healthcare provider: they are here to support you! You can make an appointment at Sawtooth Mountain Clinic at 218-387-2330 or at Grand Portage Health Services at 218-475-2235.  

Maggie Farchmin, Pharm.D., Ph.D., lives in Grand Marais, is a mother to a 2-year-old daughter, and is a pharmacist working with Sawtooth Mountain Clinic and Cook County Public Health.

Each article in this series will be written by someone here in Cook County. To submit a question, email [email protected] or call 218-387-3605. No question is too controversial. You can be assured that your questions will be kept anonymous. 

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