BISMARCK — North Dakota vaccine promoters have heard holdouts cite dozens of reasons for declining to get the shot, but one keeps coming up: Some men and women believe the shot will negatively affect their ability to conceive children somewhere down the line.

It's an unfortunate myth, propelled by extensively circulated misinformation, that has been "extremely difficult to combat," said state immunization manager Molly Howell. A recent National Public Radio report tracked the false narrative from its birth on social media to its distribution through fake and misleading news stories.

Many young women, including college students and nurses, mention concerns about fertility when refusing the jab, Howell said. Multiple nursing home administrators at facilities with low employee vaccination rates noted to Forum News Service last month that female workers in their "childbearing years" didn't trust the shot because of possible fertility issues.

The fertility fable is so widespread that officials with the North Dakota Department of Health decided to hold a virtual town hall discussion on the subject Wednesday, July 21, with doctors who specialize in reproductive health.

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The three-doctor panel agreed with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: There is no evidence the COVID-19 vaccine causes fertility issues in men or women, and nearly all unvaccinated young adults should seek the shot.

Dr. Christina Broadwell, a reproductive endocrinology specialist at Sanford Health in Fargo, said she understands some residents are nervous about getting the shot, but they shouldn't fear fertility issues. Broadwell said it's hard to digest all of the information and anecdotes about the vaccine, so those who are unsure about vaccination should consult with their medical providers to get the facts.

The doctors also recommended that pregnant women get vaccinated. Dr. Ana Tobiasz, who practices maternal-fetal medicine at Sanford Health in Bismarck, said pregnant women weren't included in vaccine trials, but data from animal testing and a CDC registry of vaccinated pregnant women give her confidence the shot doesn't increase the likelihood of pregnancy complications or miscarriage. She noted none of her patients have experienced pregnancy complications after taking the vaccine.

Dr. Stephanie Foughty, a family physician with Altru Health System in Devils Lake, speaks during a virtual town hall discussion about the COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, May 7, 2021. Screenshot via North Dakota Department of Health
Dr. Stephanie Foughty, a family physician with Altru Health System in Devils Lake, speaks during a virtual town hall discussion about the COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, May 7, 2021. Screenshot via North Dakota Department of Health

Dr. Stephanie Foughty, a family medicine physician at Altru Health System in Devils Lake, added that women who are breastfeeding should get the vaccine like anyone else, and there's no evidence their babies will have adverse health effects.

Efforts to boost North Dakota's vaccination rate hit a wall earlier this year as skepticism toward the vaccine took hold in communities across the state. About 47% of eligible North Dakotans are fully immunized against COVID-19 — far behind the national rate of 57%, according to the CDC.