OPINION

Letter to Editor: The COVID vaccine will not cause infertility

Kenan Omurtag, MD
Chief, Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Medical Director Co-Director, Integrated Care and Fertility Preservation Program Fertility and Reproductive Medicine Center

To my fellow Missourians hesitant about vaccination while trying to conceive and/or those who are pregnant: I grew up in Rolla. I went to college and medical school at UMKC in Kansas City. After graduating, my wife and I came back to St. Louis to settle down. 

Missouri has made me who I am today, and I am looking for ways to give back to people throughout the state. At Washington University Fertility and Reproductive Medicine Center, my partners and I help 3,000 people a year pursue their goals of building a family. 

Many of those patients live along the I-44 corridor – from St. Louis, through my hometown, and into southwest Missouri. 

When it comes to building a family, we know what our patients are investing emotionally, physically and financially to see that happen. COVID vaccination is another source of anxiety that causes hesitancy and it does not need to be. 

This letter is my attempt to dispel the myths about the COVID vaccine for those trying to conceive. Yesterday I talked with a close friend from medical school, Dr. Travis Hawks.

Dr. Hawks, who is a fellow Missourian and a physician in southwest Missouri, asked my advice on how to address vaccine hesitancy among people trying to conceive and/or those who are pregnant. He is also a retired US Army officer and has worked with the Missouri National Guard playing a significant role in vaccine deployment in the state. 

He and I spent some time lamenting the situation and this is what I told him. First and foremost: COVID Vaccination does not cause female infertility or sterility. The threat of infertility is a common trope used by opponents of vaccination. The vaccine DOES NOT cause infertility. Period. COVID Vaccination in the first trimester does not increase risk of miscarriage. 

This is a big one that people get anxious about but data summarized within the link above demonstrated that the miscarriage rate among those vaccinated in the first trimester is the same as in the unvaccinated. Please note that miscarriage is actually NOT that uncommon. About 15-20% of pregnancies in the first trimester end in miscarriage – a sobering reminder that one in four women of reproductive age will experience a miscarriage in their lifetime. 

Miscarriage is painful and hard to share and talk about. Getting vaccinated does not increase the risk of miscarriage. It is okay to get vaccinated while trying to conceive. If you are in the middle of trying to conceive, there is no medical contraindication to the vaccine. You can get it.

There are no signs that vaccination at any time during attempts at pregnancy and/or fertility treatment are harmful to the fertility treatment outcome and or the pregnancy. COVID Vaccination does not cause problems with sperm or male infertility. Full stop. Despite this information, some still harbor concerns about unknown long-term risk and unknown adverse outcomes to their child. I respect that. 

But consider this: The reproductive safety data in animals does not show any abnormalities. The reassuring surveillance among pregnant people does not show any increased risks. 

The mRNA vaccine’s mechanism of action is reassuring and has been studied better than any vaccine known to man: (provides instructions to build a protein that elicits the immune response and then the instructions are gone in 5 hours). 

The known benefits of vaccination for pregnant people include: - lower risk of ICU admission - lower risk of ventilator need - lower risk of death - ability to pass on immunity to their babies - benefit to society at large, enabling return to life without restrictions All of these elements greatly outweigh any theoretical unknown risks to the recipient and/or child. 

Right now, I believe the number of those open to consideration is large enough to get us to a greater than 70% vaccination rate in our state. I feel like I have a duty as a physician helping people build families, from this state and practicing in this state, to encourage my fellow Missourians. 

This is my attempt to go “door to door” with my fellow Missourians. If even one person reads or hear this and DECIDES to get vaccinated – that's a win! Please share this with anyone who has concerns about the vaccine.