The world is fighting two pandemics: Covid-19 and misinformation. Dangerous social media rumors and falsehoods continue to circulate, creating fear and mistrust among the general public. This week, the misinformation focused on a false link between Covid-19 vaccination and miscarriage.
The baseless claims started after anti-vaxxers misleadingly shared posts from a popular Oklahoma OB-GYN physician. Michelle Rockwell, MD, publicly shared the tragedy of her miscarriage through her social media platforms. She also celebrated her Covid-19 vaccination three weeks later. Conspiracy theorists disregarded the timeline, took her Instagram posts out of context, and spread falsehood regarding the timing of her vaccination and pregnancy loss.
Facebook also removed a false post claiming that the head of Pfizer research found a link between the vaccine and female sterilization. This particular false claim is based on a confusing twist of scientific facts.
The Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna use messenger RNA (mRNA). A single strand of mRNA delivers instructions to human cells to produce an antibody against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. The conspiracy theory that Facebook addressed stems from the fact that the spike protein is genetically similar to an essential placental protein called syncytin-1.
The placenta is the organ inside the uterus that keeps the baby alive through its internal filtration system. Syncytin-1 and the coronavirus spike protein share a tiny string of amino acids, but the placental protein is unrelated to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. The genetic similarity is not close enough for vaccine antibodies to recognize syncytin-1.
These fabrications prompted a statement on February 4 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) titled “Medical Experts Continue to Assert That Covid Vaccines Do Not Impact Fertility.”
Leaders from the U.K. spoke up about the viral misinformation. The president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Edward Morris, MD, issued guidance in January to reassure the public, stating, “There is no biologically plausible mechanism by which current vaccines would cause any impact on fertility.”
Neither the Moderna nor Pfizer vaccine contains a live virus. One cannot catch Covid-19 from the vaccine. Pregnant patients can rest assured mRNA vaccines do not cause fetal genetic changes. The mRNA vaccines do not enter our cells’ nucleus and do not alter vaccine recipients’ DNA.
Much remains unknown about the novel coronavirus’s effects on pregnant women, babies, and Covid-19 vaccination in pregnancy. Research indicates most pregnant people who contract Covid-19 do well but have an increased risk of ICU admission and preterm labor.
Based on the known risks of Covid-19 infection in pregnancy, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advocates offering vaccination to pregnant and lactating people.
More than 3.7 million individuals give birth in the United States per year. Excluding pregnant patients from vaccine eligibility or scaring them away with false information creates a significant risk for moms and babies.