Obstetrics/GynecologyOriginal Article

United States internet searches for “infertility” following COVID-19 vaccine misinformation

Nicholas B. Sajjadi, BS; William Nowlin, BS; Ross Nowlin, BS; David Wenger, BS; John Martin Beal, DO; Matt Vassar, PhD; and Micah Hartwell, PhD
Notes and Affiliations
Notes and Affiliations

Received: February 17, 2021

Accepted: March 22, 2021

Published: April 12, 2021

  • Nicholas B. Sajjadi, BS, 

    Office of Medical Student Research, Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, Tulsa, OK, USA

  • William Nowlin, BS, 

    Office of Medical Student Research, Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, Tulsa, OK, USA

  • Ross Nowlin, BS, 

    Office of Medical Student Research, Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, Tulsa, OK, USA

  • David Wenger, BS, 

    Office of Medical Student Research, Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, Tulsa, OK, USA

  • John Martin Beal, DO, 

    Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Ascension Oklahoma St. John Medical Center, Tulsa, OK, USA

  • Matt Vassar, PhD, 

    Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, Tulsa, OK, USA

  • Micah Hartwell, PhD, 

    Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, Tulsa, OK, USA

Abstract

Context: On December 1, 2020, Drs. Wolfgang Wodarg and Micheal Yeadon petitioned to withhold emergency use authorization of the BNT162b2 messenger ribonucleic acid vaccine for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) manufactured by BioNTech and Pfizer, raising concern for female infertility risks but acknowledging the lack of evidence. The European Medicines Agency and the US Food and Drug Administration ultimately issued emergency use authorizations, but misinformation claiming that COVID-19 vaccines cause female infertility began circulating on social media, potentially influencing public perception and medical decision making among pregnant patients or those seeking to become pregnant.

Objectives: To determine the potential influence misinformation may have had on public interest in infertility related topics, as analyzed through internet search statistics in the US.

Methods: The Google Trends tool was used to analyze results for the search terms “infertility,” “infertility AND vaccine,” and “infertility AND COVID vaccine” in the US from February 4, 2020 to February 3, 2021. We applied autoregressive integrated moving average models to forecast expected values, comparing them with actual observed values.

Results: At peak interest (100), the forecasted relative search volumes interest for the search terms “infertility,” “infertility AND vaccine,” and “infertility AND COVID vaccine” were 45.47 (95% CI, 33.27–57.66; p<0.001), 0.88 (95% CI, 2.87–4.63; p<0.001), and 0.29 (95% CI, −2.25–2.82; p<0.001). The actual relative search volumes at peak searching represented 119.9, 11,251, and 34,900% increases, respectively, when compared with forecasted values.

Conclusions: COVID-19 vaccine misinformation corresponded with increased internet searches for topics related to infertility in the US. Dispelling misinformation and informing patients about the risks and benefits of COVID-19 vaccination may prevent unnecessary vaccine hesitancy or refusal, contributing to successful vaccination efforts.

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