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SANDY — Data shows COVID-19 can cause devastating complications for both pregnant women and their babies. But many are putting off the vaccination for fear it will prevent them from getting pregnant in the first place.
Medical experts say there is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine causes infertility and explain why misinformation online is false.
Natasha Tracy is now a mom to four kids. "Well, it's been eight days now since we had our baby!" she said.
Little Brian was born at 34 weeks and just came home from the newborn intensive care unit on Wednesday. At 16 weeks pregnant, Tracy was hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
"There's just so much information and misinformation … I just wasn't confident because a lot of the people on social media that I interacted with weren't confident, so it was difficult to overcome that," she said. "I wanted to talk to my doctor and I literally got it — COVID — five days before my scheduled appointment."
She says it was an awful experience. "I was sick in bed for three weeks, like, I literally cannot get out of bed and I was short of breath and I was miserable," Tracy said.
Doctors fear her COVID-19 infection could have led to her preterm labor. She also suffered severe preeclampsia, heart palpitations and hemorrhaging post-delivery — all symptoms she hadn't experienced during her first three pregnancies.
"It was really surprising to all my doctors and nurses that I had it and that was so severe," she said.
"If you get COVID, your risk of having a preterm birth is higher," said Dr. Sean Esplin, maternal fetal medicine physician and senior medical director for women's health at Intermountain Healthcare.
We have enough data now to say this is safe during pregnancy, (it) doesn't cause problems during pregnancy, that it doesn't cause infertility.
–Dr. Sean Esplin
Esplin said pregnancy is already an often anxiety-inducing time for women. He understands why it might be a difficult decision. "I think it's normal and OK for people to be a little bit worried about it … they want to do what's right for their baby, right? And so I understand that," he said. "Being pregnant during the pandemic just amplifies that."
However, he reassures people that not only is the vaccine safe during pregnancy and can prevent complications, it will not prevent someone from getting pregnant in the first place.
"The American Society of Reproductive Medicine has made a very definitive statement saying there is no evidence that this causes problems with infertility," he said.
He said 22 organizations, including the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently came together recommending both women who are either trying to conceive or who already are pregnant get vaccinated.
"Their whole job is to monitor and to look at the risks and benefits and to take the data and actually synthesize it to make a recommendation about what the right thing to do is," he said. "We have enough data now to say this is safe during pregnancy, (it) doesn't cause problems during pregnancy, that it doesn't cause infertility."
Misinformation circulating online erroneously suggests the vaccine could cause infertility by mistakenly attacking syncytin-1, a protein in the placenta that helps the placenta attach to the wall of the uterus. "That statement was made without any real evidence and as people have gone and looked at these two proteins, there's really not a lot of similarity between them," he explained. "There's absolutely no reason to think that antibodies to the spike protein would actually affect syncytin-1."
Esplin cited a recent study from ScienceDirect of women undergoing IVF who either had the vaccine, had a natural COVID-19 infection or had no antibodies at all. "They went ahead and did the embryo transfers to see if the rate of implantation and pregnancy success was the same. It was exactly the same in all three groups," Esplin said.
While Esplin acknowledged there isn't as much data in children, Esplin said it's safe. "There is no documented risk of infertility in younger people either," he said, adding that hospitals are seeing more and more sick children. He said the American Academy of Pediatrics is also recommending that children and teenagers who are eligible should get vaccinated.
Tracy got vaccinated about three months after she recovered from COVID-19 in July. "I could have prevented it, and that's the sad part," she said.
Don't be afraid of the vaccine. It's so much more mild than getting COVID.
If she could turn back the clock she would. "I wish I would have jumped on that vaccine when I first had the chance because I really do think that things would have been different," she said.
Tracy urged other women to take the vaccine. "Don't be afraid of the vaccine. It's so much more mild than getting COVID," she continued.
"If you want to do what's best for your baby, get vaccinated," Esplin added.
He said with the recent surge in cases due to the delta variant, hospitals are seeing more severe cases of COVID-19 among pregnant women. "The baby relies completely, obviously, on the mother's ability to get oxygen and when that's compromised, it can cause big problems for the baby," he said.
"We don't have people who deliver early because of the vaccine. We don't have people who are in the ICU because of the vaccine," Esplin added. "It's the disease itself that's causing those increased risks, and your best way to avoid that is to get vaccinated."