Stories and falsehoods concerning the COVID-19 vaccine’s impacts on all aspects of reproduction and sexual functioning have spread over social media platforms like a Delta type of viral disinformation, where people swap rumors of erectile dysfunction and fertility disruptions after immunization.
Vaccines have not been connected to difficulties with pregnancy, menstrual periods, erectile performance, or sperm quality in investigations thus far.
COVID-19 can cause issues in all of these areas, according to the evidence.
Officials have attempted to assuage fears by stating that data from clinical trials and hundreds of millions of injections back up the vaccines’ safety.
Scientific American spoke with four specialists in reproductive and sexual biology about common misconceptions, the research that refutes them, and the true dangers that COVID-19 poses to human health.
The following are some of the findings that can be derived from studies of those who have been vaccinated and those who have had the disease.
Vaccination has not been linked to any negative effects during pregnancy. The real danger is COVID-19.
In early August, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its recommendations, emphasizing the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the United Kingdom concluded earlier this month that “there is no pattern… to suggest that any of the COVID-19 vaccines used in the UK increases the risk of congenital anomalies or birth complications.
” Pregnant women have reported the same suspected responses to immunizations as non-pregnant women.”
According to Tara Shirazian, an associate professor and gynecologist at NYU Langone Health, pregnant women are at a much higher risk of severe disease and complications from COVID-19 infection than their peers of the same age.
According to Jane Frederick, a reproductive endocrinology and fertility specialist and medical director of HRC Fertility in California, the immune system effects of pregnancy make infection five times more likely.
“You get infected faster, and pregnant women can quickly deteriorate,” she adds.
People should get vaccinated before getting pregnant, but the vaccine is safe during all three trimesters of pregnancy, according to Mary Rosser, director of integrated women’s health at Columbia University Irving Medical Center’s Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
In early August, 22 medical organizations issued a joint statement stating that “vaccination is the best way for pregnant women to protect themselves against the potential harm of COVID-19 infection.”
The vaccines do not affect fertility, even in people who use assisted reproductive technology.
A letter co-written by a former Pfizer researcher and sent to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in December 2020 could be one source of vaccine fertility misinformation.
All vaccine studies should be halted, according to the two authors.
They claimed that vaccine-induced antibodies against a protein used by SARS-CoV-2 to enter human cells could also attack a human protein required for embryo implantation.
COVID is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
In a study published in June 2021, researchers compared the success rates of transferring embryos to women who had antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 after vaccination or infection to those who did not.
During 171 transfer attempts, the presence of antibodies did not appear to affect such rates.
In a New York Times essay, a pair of immunologists described their work showing that the sequences of amino acids that make up the implantation-related protein and those that make up the virus spike protein are not similar and that spike-targeting antibodies do not cross-react with the implantation protein.
Stress may be responsible for menstrual cycle problems following vaccination.
Some vaccinated women have reported disruptions to their monthly cycle.
“We are not dismissing them,” Rosser says. “What they say about their bodies is important, and they know their bodies best.”
But nothing in the vaccines is a likely candidate to explain these complaints.
Experts agree that a probable indirect factor is a stress.
Shirazian claims that getting a new vaccine is stressful in and of itself and that a variety of stressors can disrupt a woman’s menstrual cycle.
The physiological effects of these tensions may cause menstruation timing pathways to be disrupted.
The good news, according to Rosser, is that any menstrual effects are only temporary.
“I’ve talked to enough ladies in the previous eight months, and whatever it is, it seems to be temporary,” she says.
In early August, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) released a report stating that no cause-and-effect relationship between reports of menstruation disruptions and COVID-19 immunization had been discovered.
Separately, the MHRA discovered no link between COVID vaccinations and menstruation problems.
Clotting during heavier periods is included in certain descriptions of menstrual issues.
According to Shirazian, the phrase “blood clot” as it pertains to menstrual flow is distinct from the medical term for a clot in a blood vessel.
She says, “They have nothing to do with one other.” Clotting of menstrual blood occurs as the blood exits the arteries and does not pose a threat to tissue flow.
COVID-19 has the potential to disrupt the menstrual cycle.
COVID infection is linked to clotting in the medical sense, resulting in pulmonary embolisms, which impede blood flow to the lungs.
SARS-CoV-2 may potentially affect menstruation periods, according to some data.
A short study of 177 COVID-19 patients released in September 2020 found that 28% exhibited cycle abnormalities, including decreased bleeding and a longer cycle.
Infectious disorders are also a source of stress, according to Rosser.
She adds, “Illness produces tension.” In addition to any menstrual cycle disturbances that may occur as a result of immunization, Shirazian claims that “having COVID is 100 percent worse if you had to choose between the two.”
COVID-19, not vaccines, poses a hazard to sperm and erectile function.
The novel coronavirus in penile and testicular tissue, as well as its effects on erectile dysfunction, have been described in many investigations by Ranjith Ramasamy, director of reproductive urology at the University of Miami.
He and his colleagues also looked into vaccinations’ potential effects in these areas but found none.
The most unsurprising finding for Ramasamy was how COVID-19 interferes with erections, which are dependent on blood flow.
“COVID affects the blood veins that supply organs, and the penis is similar to other organs that require a lot of blood,” he explains.
Even nine months after infection, SARS-CoV-2 was found in penile tissue, which was remarkable.
These findings came from a small study of men who had penile implants to treat severe erectile dysfunction.
The abundant blood flow in the penis appears to have provided a pathway for the virus to reach these tissues, according to Ramasamy.
SARS-CoV-2, like many viruses, makes its way into the testes, where it can infect cells and cause harm.
A biopsy of testis tissue from six people who died with COVID-19 found the virus remaining in one patient’s sample and lowered sperm counts in three others. SARS-CoV-2 was shown to be persistent in the testes of a patient who had survived the sickness.
After vaccination, Ramasamy and his colleagues discovered no negative effects on sperm counts or other reproductive indicators.
“One of the major fallacies about the vaccine was that it could damage fertility,” he says, adding that the lack of a negative effect on sperm counts was “very reassuring.”
A few final thoughts about immunization and the dangers of COVID-19.
The specialists all agreed on one thing: getting vaccinated is the best way to protect against COVID-19’s reproductive and sexual consequences.
the author is Emily Willingham is a science writer and author of Phallacy: Life Lessons from the Animal Penis (Avery, Penguin Publishing Group, 2020). Her book The Tailored Brain: From Ketamine, to Keto, to Companionship: A User’s Guide to Feeling Better and Thinking Smarter will be published in December 2021 by Basic Books.