Pregnancy, fertility, menstruation and COVID-19: Your questions answered
TORONTO -- While the pandemic has been a stressful time for everyone, it’s been particularly worrisome for those who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. With new data and studies about COVID-19 and the vaccines to protect against it being released daily, it’s no wonder that confusion abounds.
From pregnancy risks to menstrual changes, fertility expert Dr. Marjorie Dixon, the founder of Anova Fertility and Reproductive Health in Toronto, separates facts from fiction when it comes to reproductive health in the time of COVID-19.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF COVID-19 TO PREGNANT PEOPLE?
Pregnant people are at a higher risk of severe complications, hospitalization, and even death from COVID-19 when compared with their non-pregnant, age-matched counterparts, according to Dixon.
“If you are a woman and you’re pregnant, you're at greater risk of having severe exacerbations, and admission, intubation, and potentially death from coronavirus,” she told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday.
According to a recent study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, expectant mothers with a COVID-19 diagnosis were at higher risk of preeclampsia, infections, admission to hospital intensive care units and death.
The risk of death for these women with COVID-19 was 1.6 per cent, which was 22 times higher than for pregnant women without the disease, the study said.
WILL GETTING VACCINATED AFFECT FERTILITY?
Dixon stressed that there is no evidence to suggest the COVID-19 vaccines affect fertility. She said this misinformation began to spread after a blog post from someone in the scientific community gained momentum online.
In the post, the author wrote that the vaccine targets the specific spike protein on SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, which is true. However, Dixon said the blog post author claimed there is a placental adhesion, so how the placenta gets into the uterus and adheres to the uterus to then feed the pregnancy, with a similar amino acid to the spike protein. According to the blog post, that meant the vaccine and the antibodies the body produces to fight COVID-19 could theoretically attack these placental proteins.
“It’s fake news. It's not real,” she said. “It got propagated across the internet globally and patients are asking about it non-stop and I think it's very important to clear up that that is not real information.”
The claim has also been debunked by several medical societies around the world.
Dixon also added that throughout the pandemic, fertility providers such as herself have not noticed a drop in pregnancy rates.
SHOULD PREGNANT PEOPLE GET THE VACCINE?
Because pregnant people are at a higher risk of severe complications and death from COVID-19, Dixon urged them to get vaccinated.
“If you are planning a pregnancy, if you are pregnant, if I were pregnant, I would be getting the vaccine,” she said.
In fact, Dixon added that pregnant people should be prioritized over other groups to receive the vaccine sooner because of their higher risk.
She also said the benefits of the vaccine will extend to the fetus as well because the antibodies the body produces will cross the placenta and protect the unborn child against COVID-19 too. Furthermore, she said those antibodies can also be passed to the baby after birth during nursing.
CAN MENSTRUAL CYCLES BE AFFECTED BY THE PANDEMIC?
There have been anecdotal reports from people claiming they have witnessed changes to their menstrual cycle during the pandemic. While Dixon said there is not a lot of science to back up why this might be happening to some people, she said stress can be a factor.
“There's the grand central control in our brains that actually sends messages and informs our endocrine system of how to grow an egg and then ovulate,” she said. “In periods of stress, women will actually mention, like when women are taking exams, for example, law school, medical school, stressful periods of their lives, their periods will actually cease.”
Some people have also reported changes to their menstrual cycle after being vaccinated, but Dixon said this could just be a reporting bias.
“When you're asked to report something, after you've had a vaccination or to remember when things happen, sometimes we may actually remember things not accurately, or not exactly as they were to have transpired,” she said. “It's potentially that we're looking at our periods and maybe they were irregular before we got the vaccine too and we're not actually noticing.”
While there could be another explanation, Dixon said at this stage there’s no evidence that vaccines actually impact periods.
“There may be correlation, but not causation,” she said.