The myths surrounding COVID started circulating almost immediately after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Inaccurate posts and factually questionable videos about the virus spread with stunning speed. (Do we all remember the plandemic video?)
In fifteen months, the disinformation spreaders haven’t let up. Instead, they’ve turned their attention to the COVID-19 vaccines.
First came the myth that the COVID vaccine gives you COVID. (It absolutely does not.) Then came the myth that the vaccine is nothing but a ruse to implant a microchip into your body so the government (or Bill Gates) can track you. (There’s no microchip. Why bother with a microchip when your phone will track you just fine?)
The latest myth emerging from the dark, conspiracy theorist corners of the Internet is that being around a vaccinated person can disrupt a person’s menstrual cycle. The idea stems from the completely false premise that vaccinated folks are shedding the COVID virus or COVID spike protein.
This myth is false and it makes zero sense from a medical point of view.
COVID Vaccines Do Not Shed
Let’s break down what vaccine shedding is and how it happens. Viral shedding is a common process that occurs when cells which are infected with a virus “release infectious virus particles” into the air. Shedding occurs when an infected person talks, exhales, sneezes, or coughs. The virus must replicate in order to spread.
Vaccine shedding takes that common process a step further. It hinges on the idea that vaccines cause individuals to shed as if they were infected.
The problem with that premise is this: the vaccines authorized for emergency use by the FDA do not contain any of the COVID virus. They contain nothing that can shed. The vaccines are little more than instructions for your cells on how to make a version of the COVID spike protein, so that your immune system learns how to recognize and attack the actual COVID spike protein if you become infected.
The ingredients in the vaccine cannot replicate. As a result, they cannot spread—not in your body or anybody else’s body.
“They’re injected into your arm, and that’s where they stay,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins, told the New York Times. “mRNA is taken up by your muscle cells near the site of injection, the cells use it to make that protein, the immune system learns about the spike protein and gets rid of those cells. It’s not something that circulates.”
Even if the vaccine could shed—which it cannot—it’s cleared from the body within 24-48 hours leaving no opportunity for shedding, notes Zubin Damania, MD, in an interview with MedPage Today.
Put simply, vaccinated folks aren’t shedding because “there’s nothing to be shedding,” according to Dr. Céline Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center and a member of President Biden’s transition advisory team on the coronavirus.
Other Vaccine Shedding Associated Myths
Along with menstrual cycle irregularities, conspiracy theorists are blaming vaccine shedding for a number of other issues, including miscarriages and infertility. A private school in Miami even went so far as to ban vaccinated employees, citing a debunked claim that “tens of thousands of women all over the world” have experienced reproductive issues from being in proximity to a vaccinated person.
Clearly, if vaccine shedding is not possible, then vaccine shedding is not causing miscarriages, infertility, or other reproductive issues.
Emily Martin, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, confirmed as much in no uncertain terms to the New York Times. “Transferring anything from the vaccine from one person to another is not possible. It’s just not biologically possible.”
These Myths Are Dangerous
The problem is that we can’t just roll our eyes at conspiracy theorists and move on. Their disinformation campaigns are dangerous. “This isn’t just a trivial thing,” Damania told MedPage Today. “It’s quite harmful.”
On a micro level, the disinformation might discourage pregnant people from getting vaccinated. Pregnant people are at a higher risk for severe COVID and pregnancy-related complications. These are folks we want vaccinated as soon as possible.
On a macro level, these myths sow doubt into the minds of the general population, leading some to hesitate on getting the vaccine and others to avoid it all together. Vaccination is crucial to bringing this pandemic to an end. Dr Christopher Zahn, Vice President for Practice Activities at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists noted that vaccines “our single best tool for confronting a global pandemic that has taken 600,000 lives in this country alone.” Anything that scares folks away from taking the vaccines is problematic.
The vaccines are safe. They are effective. Shedding the coronavirus vaccine is a biological impossibility. Being in the presence of a vaccinated person will not impact a woman’s reproductive system–not her menstruation or her fertility. To believe otherwise is to believe a lie. To believe otherwise and avoid the vaccine is to prolong this pandemic and put yourself and your community at risk.