Apr 9, 2021 | OPINION | By Emma Logan | Illustration by Bibi Powers
As vaccinations are on the rise and the pandemic may be finally coming to an end, false claims and misinformation have sprung up to impede Colorado’s progress.
Many young women have the misconception that any of the three FDA-approved vaccines (Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson) may cause infertility, leading to unnecessary fear and anxiety surrounding the vaccine. Similar to the numerous other conspiracy theories that are somehow allowed to thrive within our modern democracy this year, the narrative linking COVID-19 vaccines to infertility was developed when an unproven scientific hypothesis ran rampant on uninformed corners of the internet.
At the end of 2020, German doctor Wolfgang Wodarg advocated for the delay of the Pfizer vaccine’s approval within the European Medicines Agency due to concerns that the vaccine would build antibodies against the protein syncytin-1, a genetic component found both within the COVID-19 virus and mammal placentas.
The thinking was that if the body was taught to dismantle this protein, eventually, a woman who had received the COVID-19 vaccine would not be able to carry a pregnancy to term. However, the presence of syncytin-1 within the COVID-19 vaccine is not prevalent enough to then dismantle the functionality of the human placenta. Therefore, the claim that a normal dosage of the vaccine could disrupt placenta structure, and, in turn, the ability to carry a pregnancy to full term, has no scientific basis.
Anti-vaccination conspiracy pages online, however, got wind of Wodarg’s claim and instantly wove it into an anti-government, pandemic-denier narrative, with scientifically unfounded and debunked claims of infertility. This deceptive rhetoric, then trickled down into the day-to-day conversations of women navigating their own healthcare access.
The lack of factual evidence around these infertility claims does not invalidate the deep fear many women obviously felt, fueling the circulation of this misinformation further. When I first learned of this claim, something briefly mentioned by a friend of mine, I frantically Googled whether or not it were true — seriously considering turning down the vaccine if it were.
Even with these claims quickly fact-checked and debunked, I still couldn’t shake the panic that I felt so deeply. I experienced a very real fear for a hypothetical child of mine, and I feel like most young women in America can attest to this feeling.
When I was a child, I always just assumed that I would be a mother once when I grew up. Playing house with neighborhood friends, we would stuff pillows under our shirts and place our hands on our lower backs, pretending to be bothered by the physical weight of our unborn children. As I grew older, however, this imaginary weight developed into a very real burden and it began to subconsciously creep into many of my decisions.
Throughout high school I worked tirelessly in my academics and extracurriculars in an attempt to become a competitive college applicant. And although I was lucky enough to have my parents offer to pay for some of my secondary education, I also understood the genuine possibility of becoming buried by student loans if I wasn’t able to finance my schooling ahead of time.
So, when I found out this past March that I had earned a full ride academic scholarship to my top institution, I immediately felt a wave of relief I have never experienced before. Admittedly, one of my first thoughts after opening that announcement envelope was, “Now I can afford to have kids sooner.”
I don’t think I had even recognized this as being part of my motivation to succeed during my high school career. Yet, as I reflect more and more about the critical role my prospective motherhood plays in my decision-making process, I realize just how much my image of myself is linked to this eventuality.
The scariest thought, though, for many young women is that this “eventuality” can be anything but that. Between the looming fear of climate change, faults in our economic and healthcare systems recently exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and multitudes of societal pressures to address your “ticking clock,” motherhood seems like a timebomb of mounting pressure for young women.
We are left feeling both unbearably helpless, being slowly surrounded by existential threats that keep us from morally bringing children into the world while dealing with the overwhelming apparatus that is the female body. In simpler terms, this dread of the feasibility of impending motherhood is not only sparked by the inherent flaws of the world around me, but also the world within me.
After hearing about the supposed linkage between the COVID-19 vaccine and pregnancy complications, I found myself hastily researching to learn as much information about my own body’s ability to create life as possible.
When one googles the phrase “How long can I wait to have children?” they are immediately confronted with the statistic that a woman’s chance of getting pregnant during ovulation each month falls down to only 20% by the time they turn 30, and is an obsolete 5% by the time they are 40.
Based on those statistics, Colorado College first-years have roughly 12 years to find and marry the person they want to spend the rest of their life with, save all the money they needed to fund starting their family, physically give birth to all the biological children they want, as well as have all the other career and travel experiences they want as a childless person. That’s kind of a lot of pressure.
Thankfully the medical community now widely considers many of these statistics to be over-simplistic, but they serve as yet another example of the extensive misinformation disproportionally slanted towards encouraging women to have children as early as possible or manipulating them into not partaking in certain normal activities, such as certain healthcare needs, eating certain foods, moderate drug consumption or excessive physical exercise. In reality, infertility is a complicated issue that impacts each individual differently, and the best information out there should be from a medical professional you trust.
There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine could contribute to infertility. Nevertheless, ensuring the ability to have children is a big consideration for some young women, and we must recognize the power of narratives that seemingly threaten that and the clear emotional toll they can take on our generation.