Dr. Amelia Sutton

With the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, myths continue to circulate over how the vaccine might affect a child’s fertility.

Dr. Amelia Sutton, physician with Novant Health Maternal-Fetal Medicine, has been clear about why pregnant women (and those trying to conceive) should get vaccinated. Now she unpacks why the vaccine won’t and can’t negatively affect the fertility of children, either, whether inside the uterus or out.

Sutton also has a PhD in molecular pharmacology, which makes her highly qualified to explain how the COVID vaccines work and the biology of what’s really happening.

Where do all of these infertility myths come from?

It can be traced back to (British scientist Michael Yeadon,) who reported that there was a vague similarity between the spike protein — which is what the COVID vaccines are designed using (see below) — and a placental protein, called syncytin-1. His theory was that the antibodies created by the COVID vaccine would also attack the placenta, leaving the baby without its lifeline to nutrients, water, oxygen and more.

But it’s only a vague similarity and in a very short segment of the protein that likely wouldn’t be seen by the immune system anyway. And, most importantly, the protein wouldn’t even be around unless you’re actually pregnant, so the notion that it affects fertility makes no sense whatsoever.

So now do you think people are hearing concerns about fertility and just assuming that would apply to children too?

Right. They’re saying, “Well if I’m pregnant and I get the vaccine and it doesn’t affect my fertility, what if it affects my baby’s fertility?” Again, there’s no plausibility to this whatsoever. The mRNA vaccines, which are the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines, are actually in a large fat molecule called a liposome, and that doesn’t even get across the placenta. It can’t even cross over to the baby whatsoever.

If it doesn’t affect adult fertility, would it affect fetal fertility? The answer is no. That’s just not possible based on how our vaccines are designed

Are there studies now that show the vaccine doesn’t affect fertility?

There have been several studies out from fertility clinics comparing the response of vaccinated versus unvaccinated couples to fertility treatments, and there’s absolutely zero difference. There’s a new study that came out of Israel that looked at about 50 couples that are vaccinated versus about 50 couples that are not vaccinated, and it had the same findings (as studies) in the United States, that there’s no effect.

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But importantly, we do know that the actual COVID infection does negatively affect the sperm count and could impact male sexual function.

Do you think people just hearing the term mRNA makes them think DNA and wonder if their genetic material will be affected?

Right. And that’s understandable. What I encourage people to do is to talk to their doctors and try to understand how this whole process works. Going back to biology 101, the DNA is what’s in our cells and what gets passed on to our babies, and it is a blueprint for how our cells function. mRNA is a transient copy of the DNA. … It does not integrate into your DNA, so it can’t change your DNA. It doesn’t stick around.

The mRNA created in a laboratory and used in these vaccines teaches our cells to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies. But the mRNA itself exits the body quickly.

Do you think the confusion might be distinguishing between live virus vaccines and this new mRNA vaccine technology? Are there any live virus vaccines that do affect fertility?

Well, the questions is actually whether they can affect pregnancy. Yes, but there are only a handful. Rubella is a live attenuated virus, meaning it can’t actually cause an infection, but it’s a viral particle that’s been inactivated. Those are the only ones that are not recommended in pregnancy because they could in theory cause a problem. But when we’ve looked at people who’ve gotten the rubella vaccine in pregnancy, it actually doesn’t cause any issues. Avoidance of this vaccine during pregnancy is recommended simply out of an abundance of caution.

Given what you’ve seen treating pregnant COVID patients in the ICU, do you feel like you’re living the example that the actual disease is far worse than potential effects the vaccine might have?

I was pregnant last year and, gosh, I would have taken it in a heartbeat (if the vaccine had been available then), given everything that I’ve seen with pregnant moms and their babies, and how the virus has affected them.