COVID-19 Vaccines and an Infodemic Surrounding Risk of Infertility

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December 7, 2020, days before the COVID-19 vaccine was approved for emergency use, this reply tweet was shared equating the vaccine to sterilization in women, with a screenshot from an article published on December 2, 2020 by the Health & Money News website where the headline read; Head of Pfizer  Research: Covid Vaccine is Female Sterilization.

It quotes a petition tabled to the European Medicens Agency on December 1, 2020 by German physician, Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg and former Pfizer executive, Dr. Michael Yeadon. This petition sought for a suspension of the Covid vaccine, particularly, the BioNtech/Pfizer vaccine. An excerpt from the petition stated that syncytin-1 which is essential for placental formation in women, is also found in the spike protein of the SARS viruses, in a homologous genetic code.

Initially, it was believed that if the vaccine acted like an anti-syncytin-1 antibody, then it would train the female body to attack the placental protein which could lead to infertility in vaccinated women of childbearing age.

This according to the petition was presented as a demand to halt the ongoing vaccine trials at the time. However, it was taken out of context and treated as factual claims of a risk of infertility by the Health & Money News website.

This stirred different reactions, driving a narrative against vaccination on different social media sites. Between December 1, 2020 and May 29, 2021 there have been a number of claims shared as tweets. From a Key Word Analysis, the earliest went up the internet on December 6, 2020, under key terms; Covid vaccine causes sterility. This tweet quoting an excerpt from the petition addressed to EMA, stated that the Covid vaccine causes sterility in both men and women. Similarly, a most recent tweet from May 29, 2021 shared similar claims among other myths surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine.

An analysis from Cloud Tangle shows that posts shared on Facebook between these dates, accrued 1,954 interactions from 22 overperforming posts.

More claims were identified under key words; Covid vaccine causes infertility. This one in particular supported these claims in defense that they don’t want children anyway. With corresponding remarks, this one showed the willingness to get vaccinated if at all it causes infertility.

“I’m just saying, if the Covid vaccine causes infertility I’ll take three rounds,” read a  tweet with similar sentiments from March 4, 2020.

Another analysis from Cloud Tangle shows that Facebook posts with ‘Covid vaccine causes infertility’ as key words attracted 37,773 interactions from 381 overperforming posts.

Google Trends shows that, between December 1, 2020 and May 29, 2021, there has been a breakout of keywords that revolve around the Covid vaccine and infertility with an escalation in April 29, 2021.

Trends show keywords surrounding Covid vaccine and sterility indicate that there has been an escalation in May 26, 2021, globally.

A number of experts have contributed immensely towards debunking of these claims. In an email to the Reuters, Pfizer spokesperson, Dervila Keane stated that the spike protein in COVID-19 only shares a sequence of four amino-acids with the syncytin-1 protein in humans. This limited similarity is therefore too short for cross-reactivity.  It is highly unlikely to confuse the body to attack the already existing placental syncytin-1 protein.

Once the vaccine is introduced into the body, what it does is, it provides the body with an instructional molecule, mRNA that triggers the human body to release a fragment of the spike protein. With this then, the immune system is made familiar of this genetic form of the virus and when it next encounters it, it is able to efficiently defend the body against it.

Messenger RNA vaccines (mRNA), though new, they are not unknown. This vaccine technology according to the Centre for Disease Control has been under study for decades now.  They protect against infectious diseases by teaching cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response by the body.

Additionally, a report published by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine states that although the coronavirus spike protein and the placental syncytin-1 protein share small stretches of the same genetic code, they are different in structure making it easy for the body to make a difference between these proteins.

Messenger RNA vaccines work in a way that they are taken up rapidly by muscle cells at the injection site and the vaccine is broken down in the cell once the spike protein is made so it does not cross the placenta.

Extensive clinical trials have been carried out following creations of COVID-19 vaccines. So far, there is no evidence that the vaccine will affect your natural fertility, harm the placenta or fetus.

The ideology equating the placental syncytin-1 protein in humans and the spike protein in COVID-19 is MISLEADING. There is no credible evidence that shows a link between the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and female infertility.

This publication was produced as part of IWPR’s Africa Resilience Network (ARN) programme, administered in partnership with the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR), the International Centre for Investigative reporting (ICIR), and Africa Uncensored. For more information on ARN, please visit the ARN site.

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Nyakerario Omari

Nyakerario J. Omari is a Kenyan writer and journalist with a passion for in-depth stories told through documentaries. She has an interest in reporting matters concerning health, crime and human rights.