By Paula Penebaker
On Mother’s Day, many moms recall bringing their newborn home. Some of the happiest moments moms experience are the “firsts” — first words, first steps, first birthday.
However, this day of celebration can a painful reminder for women struggling with infertility.
The stigma attached to infertility takes a toll on mental health. Unfortunately, that stigma is especially damaging for Black women. Dr. Eynav Accortt, clinical psychologist and director of the Reproductive Psychology Program at Cedars Sinai Hospital, wrote an article titled Infertility and Mental Health Studies. The article stated: “Infertile couples experience significant and emotional distress. One study of 200 couples found that half of the women and 15% of the men said that infertility was the most upsetting experience of their lives.” So, if women (or men) have concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine and its impact on fertility, they will likely choose not to get vaccinated.
This article is intended to reduce those concerns while acknowledging the history of medical abuse of Black people.
Many Black people are familiar with the Tuskegee experiment on Black men with syphilis starting in 1932. Penicillin became the standard treatment for the disease in 1947, but was withheld from the men, many of whom died. Some who survived suffered long-term complications after the study ended in 1972.
While Tuskegee was a heinous act, many people are not aware that a century before that study, Black women were subjected to barbaric acts of experimentation. The first vaginal speculum, an instrument most women in the world are familiar with, was created by Dr. James Marion Sims. Known as the founder of modern gynecology, Sims performed major surgeries without the benefit of anesthesia and proper sanitation on enslaved women.1 Until recently, a statue of Sims stood in Central Park across from the New York Academy of Medicine.
That grim information affirms the skepticism Black people, and women specifically, have about medical practices.
There are some facts about modern medicine that might provide solace. First, cautionary information has been shared about the COVID-19 vaccine, as has been the case for all modern FDA-approved medications. Second, research from the developers Pfizer BioNTech, Modena and Johnson & Johnson was approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). When there was a problem with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it was disclosed. The vaccine was removed from circulation until the company proved the issue was resolved.
There are several risk factors that can lead to infertility in men and women. Absent from those factors are vaccines. Among the risk factors contributing to female infertility are abnormal menstruation, kidney disease, pelvic inflammatory disease, and endometriosis, according to Cleveland Clinic reports.
Concerns persist about possible side effects of the vaccine, including infertility.
“There isn’t evidence that any vaccines — including COVID-19 — cause infertility,” said Dr. Rachel Villanueva, a Black OB/GYN based in New York City and president of the National Medical Association. “Though for men who have contracted COVID-19, some have experienced a temporary decrease in sperm count that, based on timing, could make conception a temporary challenge.”
A study from Boston University supports what Dr. Villanueva shared.
In conclusion, trust Black medical professionals like Dr. Villanueva and the Black nurse Sandra Lindsay at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. She was the first person in the country to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on December 14, 2020. The shot was administered by a Black woman, Dr. Michelle Chester. Sandra did what so many Black women have done over the ages: she stepped up to lead the way for others. In the case of COVID-19 and its impact on communities of Black and brown people, Sandra said she trusted science even though she was aware of past medical atrocities.
This information may put minds at ease. If friends and family want to get pregnant, they hopefully won’t let fears about the COVID-19 vaccine stop them from trying. Mother’s Day can be a day of celebration for them in the future!
About Dr. Rachel Villanueva
Dr. Rachel Villanueva, is board certified in Obstetrics/Gynecologist and the president of the National Medical Association (NMA), the nation’s oldest and largest professional organization representing African American Physicians and their patients. She is a member of the Medical Advisory Group of the Black Health Trust, a group of physicians and health care professionals, committed to educating and serving communities of color. She has also held numerous local, regional and national leadership positions, including Chair of the Board of Trustees, Speaker of the House of Delegates, and Chair of the Council on Concerns of Women Physicians.
1 Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: American’s Legacy of Enduring Injury & Healing, Dr. Joy DeGruy, Pp 61-62
For more information about J. Marion Sims, visit tiny.one/yc7kyh56.
For more information about COVID-19 vaccines, visit vaccines.gov.
For more information about the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ COVID-19 public education campaign, visit We Can Do This.