Should parents worry about a vaccine affecting a child’s fertility? We asked experts your COVID-19 questions.
Q. Should parents be concerned about a vaccine affecting their child’s fertility or puberty?
A. The answer is no, said Dr. Jennifer Kusma, an instructor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Lurie Children’s Hospital pediatrician. “There’s no scientific reason or concern for either,” she said. Right now, the vaccine approved for kids age 5 and older is the Pfizer mRNA vaccine, which doesn’t reach inside the nucleus of a cell, where DNA is located, so it should not impact any other body systems or hormones, Kusma explained. The body’s immune system, which fights infection, is separate from the hormone system, which guides fertility and puberty.
As far as effects from vaccines in general, with previous vaccines, any side effects typically happen within the short time following a vaccine; long-term consequences of vaccines would be very unusual.
Added Dr. Allison Bartlett, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at the University of Chicago Medicine, “Most vaccines kids get are given before puberty, and the only long-lasting impact they have is they generate immune memory that help fight infection in the future.”
Kusma also noted that the CDC has been studying adults who have gotten the vaccine, including many who got pregnant shortly after a dose, and there’s no indication that it has an impact on fertility. She also notes that among children monitored so far, no changes have been seen.
Kusma understands that parents might respond that we just have months of data for children. To that she reminds parents that although the COVID-19 vaccine approval proceeded more quickly than other vaccines, it went through all the same steps. “I wish I had a crystal ball for many things I advise parents about,” she said. “While I can’t promise parents that we won’t see anything five to 10 years from now — I can’t promise them that about a lot of things — it would be really unusual for that be how a vaccine would work.”
Bartlett notes that kids who get infected with COVID-19, can get MIS-C, where bodies develop an out-of-control inflammatory response, and in rare cases get severe infections and die.
Kusma encourages parents to come to her with questions. She tells them that there’s no way to tell which kid would get really sick from COVID-19. Also, getting kids vaccinated helps the overall population, and can help them stay in school and return to normalcy.