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FACT-CHECK: Does COVID-19 vaccine cause infertility in men, women?

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By Justina ASISHANA


FREEZING your sperm before taking a vaccine sounds scary, but do you really have to? The question came up recently in a health engagement in Niger state regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. Questions were asked whether one would be able to give birth after taking the Covid-19 vaccine.

This question was echoed by other participants. The Facilitator, Abubakar Kpantu, who is the Niger state Immunization Officer, admitted that he and his staff had been repeatedly queried on this by those who are eligible to take the vaccine.

He later stated that the controversy was one of the causes of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in the state.

Photographs have been shared on WhatsApp asking men to freeze their sperm and women to freeze their eggs before taking the COVID-19 vaccine. One of the picture received by this reporter is shown below:

Verication

Using the Google Reversed Image, it was shown that the photo was taken from some articles while further search showed that it first may have been written by local10.com in its article titled ‘Study investigates effects of COVID-19 vaccine on male fertility’ on December 20, 2020, with bylines of Kristi Krueger, Anchor/Health Reporter and Kathleen Corso, Special Projects Producer.

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Google Reverse Image Search is a part of Google search that allows one to search the internet using images instead of writing words.  By sharing a specific image with your search engine, it will go on to find others like it.

In the article, it was stated that The University of Miami was investigating the possible effects of the coronavirus vaccine on male fertility and advised participants to have a fertility evaluation before receiving the vaccine.

It concluded with these words, “To protect fertility, some men may want to consider freezing their sperm before vaccination.” It is weird they are talking about ‘the vaccine’ in this article because as at 2020, the vaccine was still in its testing/early stage.

Digging deeper online using Tweetdeck and Who Posted What, there were trends of posts that retweeted and shared the articles and some people may have screenshot it to start sharing on WhatsApp.

One of the tweets seen with handle @michellemalkin who is a syndicated writer and vaccine sceptic showed that her tweet was retweeted 8,226 times with the quote tweeted 2,001 times. But why the post which was tweeted in 2020 and the article which was written in 2020 and shared recently in 2021 showed that anti-vaxxers may want to dissuade people from taking the vaccine, a situation which is already been seen to be causing vaccine hesitancy

This is because in 2020 ‘the COVID-19 vaccine’ was still in its trial/early phase but now, there is a much larger body of data on the fertility and the vaccine: majority of which points that basically, there is no impact on fertility, and even pregnant women are advised to take the vaccines.

Using Hoaxy to view the network of misinformation about the flow of the information in the last seven days, from 19th to 24th May, it was observed by this reporter that the majority of the posts tweeted and retweeted were by governments and the country’s Centre for Diseases Control explaining that the vaccine does not affect fertility in men and women.

Where did the infertility myth/controversy start?

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In 2020, a former vice president of Pfizer, Michael Yeadon, alongside some other persons wrote a petition to Europe’s medicines regulator demanding that the COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials should be stopped. They speculated that the vaccines could cause infertility in women.

Further investigations showed that their speculations were without evidence.   However, because Yeadon was not just anyone but a former vice president of Pfizer which is one of the pharmaceutical companies producing the vaccine, social media were awash with the unverified claims that COVID-19 vaccine causes female infertility and this started the flow of misinformation that the vaccines cause infertility.

Expert’s view

The Medical Director and Chief Consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist of Queens Specialist Hospital, Abuja, Dr Martins Oche Ejembi explained that vaccines are supposed to provide immunity against one or several diseases and in the COVID-19 vaccine, the vaccine is supposed to provide immunity against the COVID-19 virus.

According to him, the COVID-19 virus itself can affect the fertility of both male and female explaining that in the male, it affects the testicles, causes sperm problems in terms of movement, morphology, swimming ability and ability to fertilize.

“So also with the women, COVID-19 affects the ovaries where the eggs are produced. In a way, acute infection of COVID-19 can lead to infertility in both men and female because the egg is part of the process that reproduces for the woman and the sperm for the man. And when they come together, they form a zygote which transforms into a baby. So when all these organs involved in reproduction are affected, it affects fertility. ”

For the COVID-19 vaccine, Ejembi said, “The vaccine is supposed to prevent serious infection when taken. It is supposed to help stop the progress of COVID-19 in the body. We know that the virus itself can in a way attack fertility. COVID-19 studies have shown that COVID-19 has been seen in vagina fluids, in semen and it travels fast to the reproductive organs, so we know that at that level, it can affect fertility organs but the  vaccine which is supposed to contra or to fight the virus itself cannot be said to be causing infertility.”

The Obstetrician and Gynecology Specialist further said that studies on the COVID-19 vaccine have reassured that the vaccine in question has no immediate effect on fertility adding that “It is, however, too early for us to be able to say that the vaccine affects fertility. The rumour circulating that the vaccine is meant to reduce our population is far from the truth. For now, we don’t know what the long term effect of the vaccine would be on reproductivity.”

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Ejembi further said that studies are being done to see if the vaccines can affect the reproductive organs and cause infertility adding that, “Only when the time comes that we will be able to ascribe that the vaccine is the cause of this problem or that problem. Studies are being done to see how it will affect fertility and reproductive organs. But for what is known scientifically now, the vaccine will not cause infertility but the virus will.”

What other authorities say

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the advice section regarding  COVID-19 and Pregnancy, titled “People who would like to have a baby”, it reads: “If you are trying to become pregnant now or want to get pregnant in the future, you can receive a COVID-19 vaccine. There is currently no evidence that any vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, cause fertility problems—problems trying to get pregnant.

“CDC does not recommend routine pregnancy testing before COVID-19 vaccination. If you are trying to become pregnant, you do not need to avoid pregnancy after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. Like with all vaccines, scientists are studying COVID-19 vaccines carefully for side effects now and will report findings as they become available. – Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Although there is no information regarding the COVID-19 vaccine affecting fertility or infertility in the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on the website of the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) or the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA); however, there was Information regarding pregnant women using the vaccine in the NPHCDA website.

The Agency on its website stated that “Available data on vaccination of pregnant women are insufficient to assess vaccine efficacy or vaccine-associated risks in pregnancy. However, the vaccine is not a live virus vaccine, the mRNA does not enter the nucleus of the cell and is degraded quickly.

“In the interim, WHO does not recommend vaccination in pregnancy, unless the benefit of vaccinating a pregnant woman outweighs the potential vaccine risks, such as in health workers at high risk of exposure and those pregnant women with comorbidities placing them in a high-risk group for severe COVID-19. Pregnant women should consult their doctors.”

Fact checking the claim

Freezing your sperm before taking a vaccine sounds scary, and if this was true, you’d be wary of taking the vaccine if you wanted to have kids, but you don’t need to do this because there is no proof to show that COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility in men and women.

Studies are still underway to show the long term effect of the vaccine on fertility but recent findings have shown that COVID-19 can cause infertility but the vaccine which is supposed to mitigate the effect of the virus should be seen to be solutionist to this situation.

Therefore, there is no need to freeze your sperm before taking COVID-19 vaccine as the claim that COVID-19 vaccines infertility is Misleading and tends to contribute to Vaccine Hesitancy.

  • 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. For more information on ARN, please visit the ARN site

 

If you or someone you know has a lead, tip or personal experience about this report, our WhatsApp line is open and confidential for a conversation

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