Physician viewpoint: How to assure young people vaccines don't cause infertility

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Hospital executives and clinicians can't definitively say COVID-19 vaccines will never cause long-term effects, but they can continue to communicate that there is no scientific evidence pointing toward those fears, emergency physician and former Baltimore health commissioner Leana Wen, MD, wrote in a June 28 op-ed in The Washington Post.

In her article, Dr. Wen focuses on the popular yet untrue claim that COVID-19 vaccines can cause infertility. The myth gained popularity after a British scientist spread claims that the coronavirus' spike protein (which is targeted by vaccines) is too similar to a protein found in the human placenta for the body to tell the difference, therefore causing vaccinated people to produce antibodies that would lead to miscarriage and infertility.

The scientist's claim has no scientific basis, Dr. Wen wrote. A different op-ed — written by Paul Offit, MD, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and published May 10 in The Hill — explained that while the coronavirus spike protein and the placenta protein share some amino acid sequences, the body is definitely able to distinguish them from one another.

"To say that these two proteins are disturbingly similar would be the equivalent of saying that two people share the same social security number because both contain the number six," Dr. Offit wrote.

Still, the myth has plenty of believers. The Kaiser Family Foundation's January survey found that 13 percent of unvaccinated Americans believe or are unsure that COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to cause infertility. Its April survey showed that 42 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 had heard this.

D'Angela Pitts, MD, obstetrician at Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System, told Dr. Wen she's found it helpful to explain to her patients that COVID-19 vaccine trial participants have gotten pregnant and carried safe, full-term pregnancies. She said it's also helpful to explain that the CDC has tracked more than 35,000 pregnant women who received coronavirus vaccines, finding no increase in miscarriages or adverse outcomes.

 

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