By Adeola OGUNLADE
“I heard that COVID-19 vaccine affect the fertility of unmarried women and is something to really worry about especially for some of us who still want to give birth to children”.
Titi Akosa, is asking the question, at a training workshop for people involved in the vaccine rollout in Lagos. She got the information from a women’s group on social media.
Even though she works as a frontline worker for the Lagos health ministry, a false claim she fears would lead to vaccine hesitancy among unmarried women in the state.
The Workshop focused on the First Phase of Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccination programme and was put together for civil societies and media practitioners by the Lagos Civil Society Coalition Against COVID-19.
Records from the Lagos State the Ministry of Health COVID-19 Vaccine Analysis show that as at 22nd May, 2021, over 318, 000 people have been vaccinated so far, according to estimates. The number of female who came out to receive the vaccines are 158, 279 with males constituting 159, 637.
To combat the novel COVID-19 virus that has ravaged the world in the last 16 months, the World Health Organisation (WHO) in December 2020 rolled out its first set of approved 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 which is that it effects conception in women which is a concern for both unmarried women and married women who don’t yet have or plan to have more children.
How then did this misinformation originate and how widespread has it become?
YANDEX fact-checking tool 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.
Wikepedia.com, noted 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, a private pre-school in Miami, Florida, USA which removed vaccinated teachers from its classrooms and has refused to hire vaccinated teachers in the future. It was also on the basis of this false claim that some businesses in the United States of America have banned customers who are vaccinated from entering their facilities.
Further, a GMA Health Alert video posted on Yahoo.com by Dr. Sarah Humeen stated that some women have noticed temporary changes in their menstrual cycles after taking it COVID-19 vaccine, yet the evidence on the impact of COVID-19 on women’s reproductive health is far from definitive. . According to Dr. Humeen, “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”.
It should be noted that the majority of the articles and pictures posted on the Yandex cite 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.
Using the Yandex search engine, it appears that the misinformation about the link between COVID-19 and infertility in women may have originated from an article by Lance D. Johnson in Naturalnews.com. The article published on December 10, 2020 quoted Dr. Michael Yeadon, former President of the pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer to have said that ‘Pfizer’s vaccine studies are based on FRAUD and puts lives in danger; a claim reinforced (in same article?) by German lung specialist, Dr. Wolfang Wodarg.
To prove their claims, the two doctors filed an urgent application with the European Medicine Agency, the regulatory agency for biomedical practice and research in Europe warning in particular that while the BioNtech/Pfizer vaccine’s efficacy toward spike proteins of SARS-CoV-2 is a real measurement of immune reaction, it will also cause autoimmune issues as well, including the destruction of the female reproductive system.
The BioNtech/Pfizer vaccine they argue will produce temporary antibodies to coronavirus by attacking the spike’s syncytin-homologous proteins. By 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.
In a response by the European Medicine Agency (EMA) published on its website on the 6th of January, 2021 stated that EMA has recommended the approval of additional manufacturing and filling lines at Pfizer’s vaccine manufacturing site in Puurs, Belgium. The recommendation by the Agency’s Committee for Human Medicines (CHMP) is expected to have a significant and immediate impact on the supply of Comirnaty, the COVID-19 vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer, in the European Union.
Based on the review of the data submitted by BioNTech Manufacturing GmbH, EMA’s decision reaffirms that the Puurs facility is capable of consistently producing high-quality vaccines and enables Pfizer/BioNTech to increase the volumes of vaccines produced at this site.
Its stated further that the EU has a comprehensive safety monitoring and risk management (pharmacovigilance) system, which ensures measures are in place for: providing advice to minimise risk; reporting suspected side effects; conducting studies after authorisation; detecting any potential side effects; conducting rigorous scientific assessments of all safety data and introducing any necessary mitigating actions early on.
As Titi Akosa noted earlier, there is growing concern within Nigeria’s medical and public health community about the web of misinformation regarding the harmful effects of COVID-19 vaccines, in particular, its link to infertility in women.
In an interview with this reporter, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist Dr. Samuel Oluwatosin Adu, he explained that there is no conclusive medical evidence he is aware of at this time that covid-19 vaccine adversely 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. Adu 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’.
Going forward, Dr. Adu stressed the need for a comprehensive database of everyone who has received the vaccine to help track any adverse effects on them.
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 rumour; there is no scientific data to support that.
Yet, this has not stopped the rumour from spreading with anti-vaxxers often evading checks by prominent social media platforms to spread the misinformation. The list of possible side effects regularly communicated by health professionals to vaccine takers include fever, headache and sore arm for a day or two. Changes in menstrual cycle and side effects related to infertility are not included.
In a tweet by the National Primary Health Care Development Agency COVID-19 Vaccination Update stated that the 1st and second dose — June 2nd 2021, in 36 States + the FCT. 1,961,883 eligible Nigerians have been vaccinated with first dose while 148,258 of Nigerians but whether this misinformation has affected young women’s participation of the vaccination programme remains unclear.
In an effort to establish the impact of the misinformation on the link between Covid 19 vaccine and infertility, The Nation Newspaper, between May 15- 25, 2021, carried out a mini-survey of residents of parts Lagos State. The survey of 20 unmarried women sought 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 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 ((95oer cent) out of the 20 recipients responded that they are aware and that they got the information through various social media platforms. 1 (5 per cent) among the recipient said that she does not believe it exists.
17 People who make up 85per cent of the recipients of the survey said that they are aware that COVID19 vaccine exists. 3 (15 per cent) persons answer that they are not aware that the vaccine exist.
However, 10 (50 per cent) 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 per cent) out of the 20 recipients responded that they are not aware of the rumour that the Covid19 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 covid19 vaccines having a negative effect on the fertility of unmarried women is an issue to look at as 10 (50per cent) 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 per cent) 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.
It is clear the rumor is not the driving force of vaccine hesitancy among the women surveyed. It is evidence that although the women are aware of the existence of covid19 in Nigeria, they are not willing to receive the vaccine. I believe that a more comprehensive data survey among a sizeable number of young women on why they are not interested in receiving the vaccines is imperative. The problem might be lack of trust in the government, or there is a communication gap in the covid19 programme in Nigeria.
This publication was produced as part of IWPR’s Africa Resilience Network (ARN) programme, administered in partnership with the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR), the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), and Africa Uncensored.