“I heard that – COVID19 vaccine affects the fertility of unmarried women and it’s something to really worry about especially for some of us who still want to give birth to children”
These were the words of a Special Assistant to the Lagos State Commissioner of Health, Titi Akosa at a Training Workshop on the First Phase of Oxford AstraZeneca COVID19 Vaccination programme organised by the Lagos Civil Society Coalition Against COVID-19 for civil societies and media practitioners in Lagos.
Akosa, who has worked tirelessly in the fight against COVID-19 as a frontline worker, said that she got the information from a women’s group on social media and they have a sort of heavy online presence. This, according to her may affect the covid-19 hesitation among unmarried women in Lagos.
From available record from the Lagos State Government Ministry of Health COVID-19 Vaccine Analysis as at 22nd May, 2021, “the total number of persons vaccinated are 317, 916, and the percentage of female who came out to receive the vaccines are 158, 279 which make up 49.8% as against 159, 637 male (50.2%) who have been vaccinated.
To combat the novel COVID-19 virus that has ravaged the world in the last 16 months, the World Health Organisation in December 2020 rolled out its validated vaccines in parts of the world. As laudable and timely as the emergence of COVID-19 vaccines is, it has equally been undermined by so much misinformation. Among the misinformation is the claim that covid19 vaccines affects the fertility of unmarried women.
Confirmation of the claim
Using the YANDEX fact checking tool, it shows different articles and pictures about the effect of the vaccines on women’s health. Different sources wrote for and against the claims with various pieces of evidence to buttress their positions.
On Wikepedia.com, it’s stated that false claims have also been made that a vaccinated person can “shed” spike proteins, which allegedly causes menstrual irregularities or other harmful effects on the reproductive health of unvaccinated women who are in proximity to them. These claims have been cited by the Centner Academy private school in Miami (which removed vaccinated teachers from classrooms, and was refusing to hire vaccinated teachers in the future), and businesses banning customers who are vaccinated.
Also in a GMA Health Alert video posted on Yahoo.com by Dr. Sarah Humeen, it was stated that some women are describing temporary changes in their menstrual cycles after taking the COVID-19 vaccine.
“With nearly 30% of U.S. adults fully vaccinated, scientists and doctors still don’t know why — or even if — vaccines might impact menstruation. However, they’re listening to women’s experiences, and calling for more studies to unpack any potential link. And, experts agree these changes are likely to be temporary, and there is no reason for women to worry about fertility”, she said.
It was observed by this Reporter that the majority of the articles and pictures posted on Yandex were from medical personnel, governments and the country’s centre for diseases control explaining that the vaccine does not affect fertility in men and women.
Origin of Misinformation on COVID-19 Vaccine Affecting Women’s Fertility
On Yandex search engine, the Reporter discovered the origin of the misinformation that COVID-19 vaccine affects the fertility of unmarried women. It stems from an article written on Naturalnews.com by Lance D. Johnson where he wrote on Thursday, December 10, 2020 that the former Pfizer President, Dr. Michael Yeadon claims that Pfizer’s vaccine studies are based on FRAUD and put lives in danger. Dr. Yeadon is joined by German lung specialist, Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg.
The two brave doctors have filed an urgent application with the European Medicine Agency, calling out the BioNtech/Pfizer vaccine study because it’s based on FRAUD. Wodarg and Yeadon also warn that the vaccine’s efficacy toward spike proteins of SARS-CoV-2 is a real measurement of immune reaction, but this effect will also cause autoimmune issues as well. Among these autoimmune issues is the destruction of the female reproductive system.
The vaccines will produce temporary antibodies to coronavirus by attacking the spike’s syncytin-homologous proteins. On the 22nd of December, 2020, the petition written by the duo to the European Medicine Agency on beforeitsnews.com has been supported by at least 80,000 people across the world.
Medical Experts’ Perspectives
Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist Dr. Samuel Oluwatosin Adu, in an interview disclosed that there is no conclusion by any study he is aware of at this time that covid-19 vaccine affects the reproductive health of any woman or man of reproductive age.
He however noted that since COVID-19 vaccines have only been out for a few months, “we cannot completely rule out any adverse effects which ongoing and future scientific studies may uncover”. But at present, according to him, there is no evidence of direct correlation between COVID-19 vaccines and infertility; unlike with such Hematological disorders like blood clots where preliminary evidence exist with the administration of some vaccines but only in very small percentages of those who received the vaccine, many of which were traced to underlying medical conditions.
As Dr. Oluwatosin explained, “Infertility is the inability of a couple to conceive in regular penetrating capacity without any barrier within a year. So, we have not gotten to the one year mark that can cause infertility but there are other studies of hormonal profile of a woman who have gotten the vaccine. Are there abnormalities in their hormones? All these are still under study’.
Adu said “the truth is that how many of such studies we have seen. That is why we need data tracking everyone who has gotten the vaccine and there is a platform for reporting for anyone who has any adverse effect from the vaccine”.
According to him, “we should be documenting all of them so we can come with the right information. It is too early to say whether the vaccine affects people and how. Up until now, safety in fertility has been assured theoretically. There may be other side effects such as pain in the hand, swelling, headache, fever and the most dreaded is the blood clot. The link between Covid-19 vaccine and infertility is rumor; there is no scientific data to support that claim.
Perception of Unmarried Women about the Claim
The misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine affecting the fertility of young women rattled the COVID-19 vaccination programme across the world through various social media platforms.
Most times at any COVID-19 vaccine appointment, one will probably be warned of possible side effects which include – fever, headache, a sore arm for a day or two afterwards. Changes to the menstrual cycle do not appear on the list.
Yet, the anti-vaccines have evaded the social media platforms to discourage unmarried women not to take the vaccines which experts have widely debunked.
As at May 2021, Nigeria has successfully vaccinated 2 million persons, but whether this misinformation has affected young women’s participation of the vaccination programme remains unclear.
This led to a survey carried out by The Nation Newspaper, a leading Nigerian Daily, among 20 unmarried women between May 15 and 25, 2021. The survey focuses on the need to ascertain their understanding of COVID-19, their perception about COVID-19 vaccines, their willingness to take the vaccine and whether the rumour around the vaccines link with infertility in unmarried women would influence their decision to get the shot. The young women surveyed are between the ages of 18 to 35 years and were drawn from three local government Areas in Lagos State – Ketu, Bariga and Alimosho.
According to the findings of the survey, when asked whether they are aware of the existence of COVID-19, 19 (95%) out of the 20 recipients responded that they are aware and that they got the information through various social media platforms. 1 (5%) among the recipient said that she does not believe it exists.
17 People who make up 85% of the recipients of the survey said that they are aware that COVID19 vaccine exists. 3 (15%) persons answer that they are not aware that the vaccine exist.
However, 10 (50%) out of the 20 recipients of this survey are not ready to be vaccinated even when the present COVID-19 variants in India, Turkey and South Africa is worrisome globally.
The survey also indicated that 16 (80%) out of the 20 recipients responded that they are not aware of the rumour that the COVID-19 vaccine affect the fertility of women of reproductive age. Only 4 (20) responded that they are aware of the rumour.
On whether the rumour about the COVID-19 vaccines having a negative effect on the fertility of unmarried women is an issue to look at as 10 (50%) out of 20 recipients says yes, “the rumour can affect their chances of taking the vaccine while 4 (20) persons said that it will not affect their chances of taking the vaccine. 5 persons (25%) of the recipients of this survey are unsure and from their response, other factors may influence their choice of whether or not to take the vaccine.