In December 2020, Tieg Beazer, M.D. was eligible to receive the COVID vaccine. She was getting married the following spring, and she and her partner knew they wanted to have a family.
When it was her turn to sign up for the shot, she admits she was hesitant. The vaccine was so new, and she didn’t want to compromise her fertility. But Beazer, an OB/GYN fellow at the University of Rochester Medical Center, was comforted when she saw data from the vaccine clinical trials: many women who participated in the studies conceived between their first and second dose. She signed up and got the shot.
Now 14 weeks pregnant, Baezer is eager to quell the fears of others in similar situations.
“This vaccine is safe, and anyone who is trying to become pregnant or who is already pregnant should get the shot,” says Baezer, who had a normal first trimester and is feeling good in the beginning of her second. “I understand why people are scared and uncertain, but if you want to be around for your baby, the shot is what will help you do that.”
Beazer also has a view that many in the community do not: she’s admitted many pregnant women who were not vaccinated and got COVID into the intensive care unit (ICU) at Strong Memorial Hospital. Some need to be on a breathing tube for weeks at a time, and others delivery very early, leaving mom and baby in the ICU.
“It breaks my heart,” she says. “If you don’t want to get the vaccine for yourself, get it to protect your baby. To protect your parents. To protect whoever you love in this world. This is our way out of all of this.”
Eva Pressman, M.D., chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, has witnessed the same devastating scenes of pregnant women and their babies in the ICU. A high-risk pregnancy expert, Pressman answers common questions about the COVID vaccines and fertility:
Q: Does the vaccine impact a woman’s fertility?
A: We recognize it’s an important concern and that you wouldn’t want to do anything now that would impact your fertility later. What we are seeing is that the vaccine does not impact a woman’s ability to get pregnant.
Early on in the vaccine’s development, it was thought that one of the proteins on the surface of the COVID virus for which the vaccines build an immune response was similar to one of the proteins that embryos use to implant in the uterus early in pregnancy. At that time, the concern was that building an immune response to a protein that is important for implantation would make it more difficult for women to get pregnant after vaccination. The good news is that the proteins are actually much more different than initially thought—enough that there really is no concern.
What we have seen clinically since vaccine use began backs that up. We see people who are vaccinated getting pregnant on their own; we also see patients of our infertility specialists—who are trying to get pregnant with help because they’ve had difficulties before COVID—get pregnant after vaccination at the same rate as if they had not been vaccinated. Both of those pieces of data are very reassuring.
Q: For women who are on prednisone for fertility treatment, does it suppress the effects of the vaccine?
A: Immuno-suppressants may mean a vaccine will create a less strong or shortened response. Most of the time the prednisone that is given for IVF is a relatively low dose used for a short term compared to uses for other medical conditions. Any vaccine is better than no vaccine and immunosuppression is not a contraindication to vaccine. It might be an indication for extra doses but should not prevent someone from getting the vaccine.
Q: Has there been any research on sperm count and vaccination?
A: Recent information shows there’s no effect on sperm count from vaccination. On the other hand, COVID infection in men can decrease sperm count. So if you’re trying to preserve your fertility as a man, it is much better to get the vaccine than to get the disease.
Q: Should you get the vaccine before or after fertility treatment?
A: Get it sooner rather than later. Unless your procedure is in the next 2-3 days, I would get the vaccine today. There’s no advantage to waiting; there’s only harm.