Experts say real world examples can debunk infertility claims.
False claims about COVID-19 vaccines continue to appear on social media sites as the Food and Drug Administration gets closer to authorizing one from Pfizer and its partner BioNTech for use in Americans.
One post that’s garnered attention is a screenshot shared by anti-vaccine advocates that falsely claims the vaccine could cause infertility in women. This is misinformation.
Pfizer spokeswoman Jerica Pitts confirmed to The Associated Press the vaccine candidate has not been found to cause infertility or sterilization.
“It has been incorrectly suggested that COVID-19 vaccines will cause infertility because of a shared amino acid sequence in the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 and a placental protein,” she said in an email. “The sequence, however, is too short to plausibly give rise to autoimmunity.”
Pregnant women were not part of clinical trials, but experts cited real-world examples to explain their confidence in vaccine safety.
As of Nov. 22, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 42,268 pregnant women were infected with the coronavirus. The agency says pregnant women may be at slightly more risk for severe illness from the coronavirus, which experts speculate is due to a weakened immune system, said Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, OB-GYN and Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Yale School of Medicine.
However, there is no evidence that the coronavirus causes pregnancy complications or miscarriages. If the virus antibodies attacked the protein vital to forming the placenta, Minkin said, more women who are sick with COVID-19 would have experienced problems in their pregnancy.
“I have no scientific reason to believe these claims at all,” she said of the social media assertions.
The idea that the COVID-19 vaccine could cause infertility in women originated from an article titled “Head of Pfizer Research: Covid Vaccine is Female Sterilization” published on a blog called “Health and Money News.”
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The post claims “the vaccine contains a spike protein called syncytin-1, vital for formation of human placenta in women” and that “the vaccine works so that we form an immune response AGAINST the spike protein … training the female body to attack syncytin-1, which could lead to infertility in women.”
This is false. Experts say the coronavirus’s spike protein is not the same protein that helps form the placenta in a woman’s body.
A small part of the coronavirus spike protein and the syncytin-1 that is vital to the placenta look similar, but it’s too small to have any consequence, virology professor Ian Jones at the University of Reading in the U.K. told FullFact.org, a registered charity and nonprofit company from England that fact-checks and debunks false or misleading claims.
“It’s very unlikely that the immune system will confuse these two because it’s a very small part of the molecule,” Minkin said. “They don’t look similar enough that the body would create an antibody to attack it.”
As the COVID-19 vaccine rolls out, people are wondering if they will be required to take it to go back to work. History provides some clues.
Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines use messenger RNA, which instructs a body’s cells to make the spiked protein specific to SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The cell begins to make these proteins, which triggers the body to create antibodies that match those proteins and attack them.
The mRNA degenerates after its job is done, but the antibodies stay and ready themselves in case the real virus enters the body.
Contributing: Associated Press.
Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.
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