People give all kinds of different reasons for not getting the COVID-19 vaccines. They question the science behind it. They worry about the side effects. They worry about the newness of it.
One of the recurring statements being heard is that it causes infertility among men, or parents fearing for a teenage son’s future fertility.
There is a kernel of truth to it, but it’s not because of the vaccine. It’s because of a side effect that can happen with any vaccine, or getting a cold, flu or even COVID-19.
A fever can temporarily suppress male fertility, says Dr. Parviz Kavoussi, a reproductive urologist at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center.
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About 16 percent of people might experience fever after receiving one of the COVID-19 vaccines, Kavoussi says, which is why there might be some link between getting the vaccine and temporary male infertility.
Anytime a man has a fever, fertility can be affected for about three months, Kavoussi says. “At three months, it’s going to bounce back,” he says.
This matters for couples who are dealing with infertility. They might need to wait until three months after having any fever, whether caused by a side effect of the vaccine, or COVID-19 itself, for his fertility to recover. By six months, it should be back to what it was before the fever, Kavoussi says.
“It’s a temporary suppression, even in infertile couples,” he says.
If couples are doing in vitro fertilization or preserving sperm, doctors might plan for that sperm retrieval to happen before a first or second dose of the vaccine to ensure sperm counts aren’t affected.
“If you ask me, ‘I’m trying to conceive, do I get vaccinated?’ All of us would say, ‘Yes,'” he says.
For parents who ask about the future fertility of their teenage sons, “there’s no data that has indicated that the vaccine is going to be harmful,” Kavoussi says.
In women, there’s also little information that the vaccine affects pregnancy rates, he says. In fact, women who are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant are encouraged to get the vaccine because pregnant women have a higher risk of both getting COVID-19 and being sicker once infected.
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The COVID-19 disease itself, though, could have some long-term effects on fertility. Researchers who have done autopsies on people who had COVID-19 have found that the inflammatory process that COVID-19 can damage the testicles as well as other organs and tissues.
Kavoussi says we still don’t know what the long-term effects of COVID-19 will be on anyone who had it, including future fertility. We do know that having some diseases after puberty, such as mumps, and sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, can cause long-term fertility damage for men.
Even though more study needs to be done, with more time passing, Kavoussi says, when it comes to the virus and fertility, “the risk of harm getting the virus overall clearly outweighs the risk of the vaccine.”