CHICAGO — With 12 to 15-year-olds now cleared to get vaccinated against COVID-19, some are scrambling for appointments. But others are not convinced it’s safe.
An online myth about whether the vaccines can cause infertility has been circulating. However, experts say there’s no truth to the misinformation that is preventing some from getting vaccinated.
Zoya Shaik, 14, has been doing her own research into the COVID-19 vaccines since March. She created her own website to help inform young people.
“I'm talking about the side effects. A lot of the stigma, too, because that's a really big thing,” said the Lisle High School freshman.
Last week, Pfizer received emergency-use authorization from the FDA to allow adolescents ages 12 to 15 to receive its COVID-19 vaccine.
But Shaik says among her peers, she’s finding a lot of misinformation.
“When people don't do their research, sometimes it just kind of goes from there,” said Shaik. “And there are a lot of kids that believe that getting the vaccine isn't the best idea.”
One myth that has been gaining traction on social media is that the vaccine can cause infertility.
“I haven't seen any clinical trials that had evidence supporting that claim,” said Shaik. “So, I just thought it was kind of funny that it was just kind of out of the blue.”
It’s something that is causing hesitation even among parents who trust it for themselves.
“The parents are just nervous that the kids are so young,” said Dr. Robert Murphy, an infectious diseases expert and executive director of the Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “The biggest thing that comes up, they're nervous about, is it going to impact their fertility? Is there any other long-range effect that's going to come many years down the road?”
He says some of the misguided hesitancy is due to how quickly the vaccines were developed and because clinical trials did not include pregnant women.
“In a very large study of women that were followed prospectively, mostly health care workers, some 4,000 of them got pregnant at every stage of the pregnancy,” said Murphy.
Add to that conspiracy theory about population control and mass sterilization, even though fertility studies in animals indicated no such side effects.
“There is no data in animals, humans, adults, that says there's anything to do with infertility, with these vaccines,” said Murphy.
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found 3 in 10 parents of kids ages 12 to 15 say they will get their child vaccinated as soon as possible. Twenty-five percent say they will wait a while to see how it’s working. Eighteen percent plan to get their child vaccinated if their school requires it, and a quarter of parents say they will definitely not get their child vaccinated.
“The vaccinated kids are going to be able to go to school,” said Murphy. “They're going to be able to interact with kids, sports, band practice choirs. They're going to behave almost like before the pandemic.”
Zoya’s mother, Sara Sadat, says it’s about making informed choices.
“There is always a chance with any vaccine of side effects and it’s always worrisome,” said Sadat. “But who isn’t as a mom? You worry, do the research and then sign them up for it. The pros outweigh the cons in addressing the pandemic, and our kids are playing a small part in ensuring that we all continue to be safe.”
As for Zoya, she says she’s taking control of her own health choices.
“I am planning to get my vaccine in two weeks,” she said. "We have a bunch of vaccine availability now, so that's really cool.”
She’s hopeful other adolescents will as well.