The Internet is like a massive library with sections for every genre of information. Like a major library it has a coffee shop, a place to meet, a place to stage events and a huge notice board. And like other libraries it has a horror fiction department and the books can be misplaced in factual news sections! Therefore, it is not surprising that a serious threat like COVID-19 is rife for conspiracy theories and sensationalist headlines.
Vaccines always come in for a hard time from the anti-science crowd. It’s a weird phenomenon. It’s weird because vaccines protect us against lethal diseases, yet people are obsessed with how the vaccine might harm them and would rather risk the lethal disease instead!
Take COVID-19, for instance. To date, it has totally stalled the world economy and killed 1.6m people, probably a lot more since this figure represents only deaths reported to the World Health Organisation. Yet the vaccines that can get us all out of this mess are already coming in for anti-vaxxer attacks. And one of the new myths is that the much Pfizer vaccine might be bad for female fertility.
The reason given for this anti-vaxxer claim, is that the vaccine works by igniting an immune response to a spike protein on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. They claim that this immune response could also attack similar proteins that make up the placenta; therefore, reducing fertility in women.
So what evidence is there for this?
The fact is that the viral spike protein is only superficially similar to the placental protein, in the same way that one red car looks like another red car at a distance.
Technically only two very small parts of these proteins look the same, not the whole protein and therefore the body’s immune system is not likely to confuse the two and attack the placenta protein, known as syncytin-1 as well as the spike protein on SARS-CoV-2.
What do the experts say?
Professor Ian Jones, a leading Virologist at the University of Reading, UK makes it clear that the proteins are not similar enough for the antibodies created by the vaccine to attack syncytin-1. He said, “ Syncytin-1 is completely unrelated to the SARS spike protein and the risk of infertility is therefore essentially fictitious.”
Given this, it is unsurprising that the clinical trials of the Pfizer vaccine have shown it to have no effect on fertility. Not only that but COVID-19 itself, which elicits an immune response in the same way the vaccine does has not been shown to have an effect on fertility.
Some anti-vaxxers on social media have focused on the fact that the UK government has issued advice saying that the vaccine should not be used in pregnancy and that the vaccine’s impact on fertility is unknown. However, this is just because the vaccine was not tested on pregnant women in case there was an adverse outcome. It just means that these particular aspects have not yet been explicitly studied, not that there is a likely problem with the vaccine.
Hopefully, these new vaccines will help us all put the dark days of COVID-19 behind us: relegating the disease to a scary tale we relate to our grandchildren many years in the COVID-free future.