Google searches for infertility relating to COVID-19 vaccines increased by 34,900% after anti-vaxers spread false information from a petition submitted by physicians questioning its safety
On December 1st 2020, Drs Wolfgang Wodarg and Michael Yeadon petitioned to withhold emergency use authorization of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19.
As a result of the petition, anti-vaccine activists misinterpreted unfounded information that the vaccine could impact fertility in women.*
Social media misinformation
The falsely represented information rapidly spread on social media channels, which according to research potentially influenced public perception and decision-making among pregnant patients or those seeking to become pregnant.
Following this event, the Google search terms “infertility,” “infertility AND vaccine,” and “infertility AND COVID vaccine” saw increases of 119.9%, 11,251%, and 34,900%.
“Misinformation is a significant threat to healthcare today and a main driver of vaccine hesitancy,” said Nicholas Sajjadi, a study researcher and third-year osteopathic medical student at Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. “We’re seeing well-intentioned research and concerns taken out of context to stoke fear and anxiety about vaccination.”
“I’m disappointed this misinformation occurred, but I am pleased to see spikes in searches because it reflects genuine interest and suggests that people are doing their research and trying to make informed decisions,” said J. Martin Beal, DO, an OB-GYN with Tulsa OB-GYN Associates. “What I’d like to emphasize to patients is that your doctor would love to have this conversation with you to help clarify any questions or concerns you may have. Additionally, I highly encourage getting vaccinated–it will protect you and the baby.”
“Dispelling misinformation and informing patients about the risks and benefits of COVID-19 vaccination, or other misrepresented claims, can save lives and slow the spread of disease,” added Sajjadi. “In the battle to fight misinformation, Google Trends can be an effective tool to help physicians recognise and proactively address false claims with patients.”
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists currently recommends that COVID-19 vaccines not be withheld from pregnant patients who meet criteria for vaccination based on priority groups recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and those at increased risk for COVID-19 acquisition, such as women healthcare workers.
*It is important to note that the petitioners acknowledged the absence of any evidence associating female infertility risks with COVID-19 vaccines.
The research has been published in the Journal of Osteopathic Medicine.