The hesitancy among people aged 18 to 34 years when it comes to getting the Covid-19 vaccine is of significant concern to the Department of Health, with a slower rollout within this age group threatening the country reaching herd immunity.
Other age groups do not seem as opposed to the jab. The 60-plus cohort is 63.4% vaccinated, and more than half of the 50-plus age group has received the vaccine.
Even the 12-to-17 cohort is eager to get vaccinated, with just over 250,000 already receiving the jab, over 350,000 registered on the electronic vaccination data system, and more expected to get vaccinated during the upcoming school holidays.
So, why the delay with 18-to-34 group?
Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla believes social media myths and fake news play a greater role in this age group than others, particularly surrounding fertility.
To combat this, Phaahla invited gynaecologist and fertility specialist Dr Ernest Moloi to debunk myths about fertility and the vaccine during the department’s regular Covid-19 briefing.
Myth debunked: The vaccine does not cause infertility
Moloi emphasised that the notion of becoming infertile due to the Covid-19 vaccine in both men and women was false, and potentially dangerous.
A number of studies have been conducted, particularly in young men, which prove that vaccine antibodies do not interfere with infertility. Sperm count taken before and after the vaccine was analysed, in terms of volume, concentration and mobility.
Moloi said contracting Covid-19 on the other hand, could affect a man’s fertility, particularly if it causes thrombosis, which can directly impact testicular health.
Women more at risk if they don’t get vaxxed
For women, Moloi said those wanting to conceive or receive fertility treatment needed to get the vaccine beforehand, to ensure as little problems during pregnancy as possible.
More complications are likely to arise if pregnant women do not receive the vaccine, including high mortality rates among pregnant women who contract Covid-19 without getting the vaccine.
“When you’re pregnant and get Covid-19, it is more likely for it to be serious, for you to be hospitalised and in ICU. Your baby is more likely to be born premature.
“Being pregnant with other comorbidities, such as weight [issues], hypertension, diabetes and so on, means you are more likely to be in ICU,” Moloi explained.
He said it was essential for fertility specialists and organisations to advise their patients to get vaccinated before they receive any treatment, as pregnant women were already more vulnerable and susceptible to viruses.
Moloi’s expert advice was backed up by South African Medical Research Council’s Professor Glenda Gray.
Gray explained that before a vaccine is rolled out, pre-clinical studies are done on animals, to test for, among other potential dangers, reproductive toxicity.
“Vaccines can’t cause sterility, or affect making babies,” Gray assured.
She said we could be reassured from pre-clinical data, human data and experiences in the field, that vaccines are safe, do not cause impotency and do not affect a man or woman’s ability to have a baby.