Vaccines, the only light at the end of this grim tunnel called “COVID-19 pandemic.” Now that scientists have developed several safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19, we should put them in people’s arms as quickly as possible. Yet that isn’t happening. In many countries people are doing a great job with immunizing freezers. Of course, I cannot blame hospitals or doctors, because distributing a large amount of vaccines is an immense logistical challenge. Still, we should try to do better.
Meanwhile, in Latvia we have an even worse problem. Back in autumn Latvia preordered a large amount of AstraZeneca vaccines and only a tiny amount of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. Why? Well, AstraZeneca vaccines are cheap and can be stored in a fridge. Meanwhile, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are much more expensive. Moderna’s vaccine requires long-term storage at minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit). Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine requires minus 70°C (minus 94°F) or lower.
Why bother preordering expensive vaccines with complicated storage requirements when AstraZeneca vaccines are much cheaper and easy to use? After all, what could possibly go wrong? (At this point you are welcome to laugh about Latvian politicians’ incompetence.)
Vaccines were preordered back in autumn when nobody knew in advance their efficiency and approval dates. Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was approved for use within European Union already in December. Moderna vaccine was approved by EU soon after. AstraZeneca vaccine still isn’t approved for use within the EU. So far Latvia has received a tiny amount of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines that were preordered, most of those have already been used to vaccinate some doctors. And now we are mostly sitting and just waiting for AstraZeneca vaccines to get approved and delivered to Latvia. We can’t even immunize freezers, because the vaccines aren’t available. (In case you are wondering, Latvian Minister of Health lost her job a few days ago because of her blunder with preordering vaccines.)
Getting people vaccinated isn’t easy. Firstly, the number of available vaccine doses is limited, producing them takes time. Secondly, getting vaccines into people’s arms is an complicated logistical challenge. Thirdly, antivaxxers. For example, in one Latvian hospital only 10% of workers agreed to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Today I read a news article about how Latvian school teachers are mostly unwilling to get vaccinated once vaccines become available, because they fear that vaccines might cause female infertility. And when I look at online news articles about vaccination process in Latvia, I see comments like, “If you want to live, don’t get a vaccine.” According to some people, COVID-19 is a hoax, it’s either imaginary or no different than flu, and vaccines are either designed to kill people or at least make them infertile. Amusingly enough, the same people who protest against lockdown and physical distancing are also adamant that they don’t want to get vaccinated. Apparently, they want to get sick and die instead.
David Gorski from respectfulinsolence.com recently published an excellent post titled “Vaccines cause female infertility: Another antivax lie resurrected and repackaged for COVID-19.” From said article:
One of the most common false claims made by the antivaccine movement is that a vaccine (or vaccines in general) somehow result in female infertility. Sure, antivaxxers will sometimes promote the idea that vaccines cause sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or simply kill older children, but not nearly as often as they like to spread the persistent myth that vaccines somehow “sterilize” females. Examples abound and can be found around the world, for example, from the conspiracy theory promoted by Catholic bishops in Kenya that the tetanus vaccine is “racist population control” and that the false claim in Africa and the Philippines (among other places) that the polio vaccine can impair female fertility, while in some Muslim countries the campaign to eradicate polio has long been plagued by conspiracy theories that claim that the polio vaccine is laced with anti-fertility chemicals that would render their girls sterile before they even became women (and/or can also infect them with HIV) as part of a plot to depopulate the developing world. (Indeed, portraying vaccines as “eugenics” is a popular antivaccine trope.) Of course, the vaccine most commonly falsely cited by antivaxxers as causing female infertility is the HPV vaccine, particularly Gardasil, which is blamed without evidence for premature ovarian failure (now more commonly known as primary ovarian insufficiency), usually based on some hand waving misunderstanding of immunology attributing this “effect” to some vaguely defined autoimmune phenomenon. This claim that a specific vaccine (or vaccines) can cause infertility is what I like to refer to as a “slasher” lie, because, like the killers in 1980s slasher movies, who appear to have been finally killed at the end of one installment, these lies always manage to somehow survive to kill more teenagers in the next movie.
So it should come as no surprise that, with the rollout of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 under an FDA emergency use authorization (EUA), with the vaccine by Moderna very likely to follow very soon in distribution, this old slasher lie has found new life, this time in the form of the claim that these two vaccines cause—surprise! surprise!—female infertility!
This particular antivaxxer lie is just so silly. Infertility? Yeah right.
On this planet, there is a huge market for contraceptives. People literally pay billions of dollars for various substances that promise to prevent conception. Among all those people who want to have sex that cannot result in a pregnancy, there are some who want permanent birth control at some point in their life. Maybe they want to remain childfree like I did. Or maybe they already have children and they don’t want any more.
I paid a lot of money to a surgeon who removed some of my internal reproductive organs. I underwent a laparoscopic surgery that required me to stay in a clinic for two days, afterwards I couldn’t exercise or have sex for a month. And did I mention it was expensive?
Conspiracy theorists speculate that pharmaceutical companies have invented some substance that reliably renders people infertile after just a single injection and has no other side effects thus ensuring that a victim cannot notice that some vaccine they were given actually made them infertile.
If there existed some medicine that could have made me infertile after a single injection without causing any side effects, I would have been willing to pay a lot of money for it. Let me rephrase it: if pharmaceutical companies had invented such a miracle drug, they wouldn’t be giving it to non-consenting people under the guise of some vaccine; instead these companies would earn billions of dollars by selling this drug to people like me who want permanent birth control.
A decade ago I read about conspiracy theories claiming that eating GMO corn on a regular basis causes infertility in people and animals (I don’t know what anti-GMO conspiracy theorists claim nowadays, I don’t want to research that). Again, if eating a serving of some cheap staple food on a regular basis could reliably render me infertile, I would have bought and eaten that food.
Reliable birth control that is simple to use and doesn’t cause unwanted side effects is complicated. With typical use, chance of pregnancy during first year of use is 9% with combination pill and 13% with progestin-only pill. It’s 0.8% with copper IUD. With male condom the failure rate is 18% with typical use and 2% with perfect use. And female sterilization has a 0.5% failure rate; vasectomy has a 0.15% failure rate.
You want an injection that renders women infertile? DMPA (depot medroxyprogesterone acetate), under brand names such as Depo-Provera, is used in hormonal birth control as a long-lasting progestogen-only injectable contraceptive to prevent pregnancy in women. It is given by intramuscular or subcutaneous injection and forms a long-lasting depot, from which it is slowly released over a period of several months. Estimates of first-year failure rates are about 0.3% with perfect use and 6% with typical use. Firstly, this injection only lasts for several months and you need a new injection every 12 weeks. Secondly, there can be side effects. It’s not some kind of miracle injection that reliably renders a woman permanently infertile after a single dose and with no side effects thus ensuring that she doesn’t even notice it.
Even when people do their best to correctly use whichever method of birth control they have chosen, failure rates are still rather high in most cases. Rendering a person infertile without their cooperation is much harder. That’s why racist eugenics movements used surgeries, because those actually are permanent. But reliably rendering a person permanently infertile against their will with some injection or something that they swallow, yeah right.
Of course, it would be possible to permanently render a person infertile by making them extremely sick, but then there would be side effects and the victim would notice that something is wrong.
Does some person want to have a healthy baby? You know what, chronic lack of sleep, stress, tobacco, obesity, poor nutrition etc. risk factors are known to negatively influence a person’s ability to have a healthy baby. Instead of worrying about some imaginary risk from vaccines, people who want children could actually pay attention to their lifestyle choices that actually harm their health. How comes conspiracy theorists don’t spend their energy telling people to quit smoking? That actually would be useful for public health.