COVID-19 Vaccines Don't Cause Infertility, But The Virus Might

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Concerns that the COVID-19 vaccine negatively affects fertility are among the reasons some are hesitant to get vaccinated. While there's no data to support these concerns, reproductive experts say there is evidence that becoming infected with the virus itself might impact fertility in males and females.

"There is evidence to suggest that infection with SARS-CoV-2 has the potential to impact both male fertility, female fertility, and certainly the health of a pregnancy of someone infected," Dr. Jennifer Kawwass, a reproductive endocrinologist and associate professor at Emory University told NBC News. "And there is simultaneously no evidence that the vaccine has any negative impact on male or female fertility."

How COVID-19 Impacts the Reproductive System

Since the beginning of the pandemic, researchers have been examining the virus' impact on the human reproductive system. So far, they haven't found evidence that COVID-19 can be sexually transmitted, however reproductive cells are easy targets for the COVID-19 virus since they carry some of the receptors the virus binds to in order to enter cells.

Here are some of the findings:

While COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, the reproductive organs are targets because of the receptors on their cells, which Kawwass says is one way the coronavirus can cause fertility issues. Some experts say the symptoms of coronavirus infection is what may cause infertility issues.

Viruses Can Cause Infertility

It's not out of the ordinary to have a virus that can cause fertility issues. "We have historic evidence that there are certain viruses that are more likely to impact either male or female fertility," Kawwass said.

The human papillomavirus (HPV), Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV infections, for example, are all been linked to decreased fertility or fertility issues.

COVID-19 Symptoms and Fertility

Aside from the coronavirus actually potentially impacting reproductive organs, experts say the symptoms of a COVID-19 infection can also bring about fertility issues.

Running a fever higher than 102 degrees for at least three days, for example, is known to cause fertility issues, especially for people with male reproductive systems.

Researchers have found that moderate to severe COVID-19 infections have led to decreased sperm counts, testicular inflammation, and testicular pain. While these symptoms are not considered common across all COVID-19 infections, they have been linked to reduced fertility.

While the research has primarily focused on male reproductive health, one study of 230 people with uteruses found that COVID-19 impacted menstruation and hormone cycles compared to a control group. In the weeks after clearing the virus, researchers found menstruation cycles and hormone levels returned to normal levels for most patients.

The Vaccine and Fertility

"When I think about fertility, I think what is the likelihood that a couple will take home a healthy baby," Dr. Eve Feinberg, a reproductive endocrinologist and associate professor at Northwestern University told NBC News. "And there is no question in my mind, or any scientist's mind, that the highest likelihood of having a healthy baby during this pandemic is by getting vaccinated.” 

There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine causes infertility or fertility issues, experts say and research shows. 

Getting infected with COVID-19 while pregnant, however, has been shown to be extremely dangerous. 

“Pregnant women with symptomatic COVID-19 have a 70 percent increased risk of death compared to nonpregnant women with COVID,” Kawwass said. For Black pregnant people, the risk of mortality is already higher without factoring in COVID-19. 

The CDC issued an urgent message last month encouraging pregnant people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 

It should also be noted that when people are looking to get pregnant, doctors have long recommended getting multiple vaccines, including a flu shot and chickenpox vaccines.

For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, please click here.

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