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The COVID-19 Vaccine and Your Fertility: What You Need to Know

January 25, 2021
Nora Tomer

Life during COVID-19 has been stressful to say the least, but with COVID-19 vaccines beginning to see distribution, there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel! But, an expectant mother or those looking to become pregnant may still have questions: Is it safe to receive the COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant? What if I’m looking to become pregnant? Can I breastfeed? The answers are all below! Here is everything we know (so far) about the COVID-19 vaccines and fertility. 

What is an mRNA vaccine?

Both Pfizer and Moderna are releasing mRNA vaccines for COVID-19, along with many other international companies. But what is an mRNA vaccine? mRNA is short for messenger ribonucleic acid. You may remember ribonucleic acid from high school biology class. This helpful molecule is great at communicating with DNA, taking it’s instructions, and converting them into proteins. 

An mRNA vaccine works with the same principles. The ribonucleic acid reads the instructions of the virus, delivers them to your immune system, and teaches it how to fight against the virus. There is no live virus within mRNA vaccines. 

A doctor preparing a woman's arm for an injection.
mRNA vaccines are commonplace and safe!

I heard that mRNA vaccines cause infertility, particularly the Pfizer vaccine. Is that true?

The short answer is: no, mRNA vaccines do not cause infertility

The long answer goes something like this:

Rumors are spreading on social media that COVID-19 vaccines can damage a protein essential to the attachment of the placenta to the uterus resulting in miscarriages. This is false. 

The protein in question is syncytin-1. This protein does in fact assist the placenta in adhering to the uterus and in nourishing a fetus. Syncytin-1 does not exist within any COVID-19 vaccine and so will not be affected if a mother chooses to pursue vaccination. While it is true that syncitin-1 and the vaccine share a handful of amino acids, there are no other similarities. 

The rumor that the vaccines may cause infertility was also fueled by the fact that one participant in the Pfizer vaccine clinical trial became pregnant and experienced a miscarriage. However, this mother never received the vaccine and was only a part of the placebo group.

How does COVID-19 affect pregnancy?

According to the CDC, COVID-19 can be more dangerous for an expecting mother than the average person. Pregnant women with COVID-19 are at a higher risk for hospitalization, intubation, and, in worst case scenarios, death. 

There is also risk to the fetus should an expectant mother become infected with COVID-19. In a study of 600 women, 12.6% experienced premature births with 2% suffering from miscarriages. There is also a slim chance that a mother may transmit COVID-19 to her infant

For this reason, doctors are recommending that pregnant women and those attempting to become pregnant follow COVID-19 safety guidelines to the letter. This means wearing a mask, washing your hands for 30+ seconds, limiting social interaction, etc.  

Two pregnant woman doing yoga.
The COVID-19 vaccine can protect you and your baby.

What are the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine?

mRNA vaccines do not interact with the placenta, do not interfere with fetal development, or affect breast milk. The only possible effect an mRNA may have is a good one! Infants may receive some of the antibodies developed by the mother through the vaccine. This means your baby will be stronger, healthier, and more capable of fighting off illness should they ever be exposed to COVID-19. 

With the vaccine, mothers will be able to protect their own health and the health of their family for the long term. 

What are the risks of the COVID-19 vaccine?

Based on current data, there are little to no risks when receiving the vaccine. Like any patient, pregnant women may expect common side effects. This includes:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Slight discomfort at injection site
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Fever

While these symptoms may seem worrying, they are proof that your body is learning to combat COVID-19! 

If a pregnant woman experiences these side effects, doctors recommend drinking water and bedrest. If any pain continues, she should call her primary care physician. She should also consult her doctor before taking any pain relief medication.

To assess any risks, it is important for women to discuss their options with their primary care physician. 

A woman consulting a doctor in a medical office.
Discuss the vaccine and your pregnancy with your PCP.

When can mothers get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Expectant mothers are not a part of the recommended groups for the first wave of vaccine roll out. However, if the mother is a frontline worker or is a part of an at-risk medical group, she should consider pursuing vaccination ASAP. 

What about fathers?

Unfortunately, given the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic is an on-going event, there is currently little to no data on how the vaccine may affect male fertility. But there is reason to believe COVID-19 may cause orchitis (aka inflammation of the testicles) in men based on the effects of other viral infectious diseases.

According to the Mayo Clinic, orchitis can not only be painful, but can cause testicular scarring. The buildup of scar tissue can then lead to sperm becoming blocked and unable to leave the testicle, just one of the many potential causes of male infertility. Orchitis can also develop if a man becomes infected with the mumps or hepatitis, so being sure to stay up to date on all vaccinations is essential. 

With all that in mind, we can assume there is little to fear! The benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the irritation of any cold that may come along as a side effect. 

When can fathers get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Like mothers, fathers are not a part of the first wave of vaccine roll out unless they are frontline workers or in an at-risk medical group. Fathers should also discussion vaccination with their doctors. 

A mother and father playing with their infant.
COVID-19 vaccines are safe for expecting mothers, mothers with newborns, those who wish to become pregnant, and fathers.

Just who recommends the COVID-19 vaccine?

Every credible medical and scientific body has given its approval and support for COVID-19 vaccines. This includes: the FDA, the CDC, the WHO, as well as fertility concerned groups such as The Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and many more. 

In the end, whether you receive the COVID-19 vaccine or not is up to you, but rest assured that the vaccine poses no risk to your general health, your pregnancy, or your fertility. 

For specific questions about COVID-19 and fertility, contact your health care provider or a fertility specialist. 


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