Google searches related to infertility and coronavirus vaccines increased by 34,900 per cent after two physicians submitted a petition to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) questioning the safety and efficacy data of the Covid-19 Pfizer vaccine.
While the US Food and Drug Administration and EMA issued emergency use authorisation for the vaccine, anti-vaccine activists circulated claims that misconstrued the information regarding the possibility that the vaccine could impact fertility in women.
The inaccurately represented information spread rapidly on social media channels, potentially influencing public perception and decision-making among pregnant patients or those seeking to become pregnant, according to research published in the Journal of Osteopathic Medicine.
“Misinformation is a significant threat to healthcare today and a main driver of vaccine hesitancy,” said Nicholas Sajjadi, osteopathic medical student at Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine.
“We’re seeing well-intentioned research and concerns taken out of context to stoke fear and anxiety about vaccination.”
On December 1, 2020, Wolfgang Wodarg and Michael Yeadon petitioned to withhold emergency use authorisation of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for Covid-19, raising unfounded concerns that female infertility could arise from vaccine-induced antibodies. It is important to note that the petitioners acknowledged the absence of any evidence associating female infertility risks with Covid-19 vaccines.
Using Google Trends tools the team found that although social media was rife with misinformation, the public turned to Google to understand if the information was legitimate.
At peak interest, the Google search terms “infertility” (119.9 per cent), “infertility AND vaccine” (11,251 per cent) and “infertility AND Covid vaccine” (34,900 per cent) experienced increases.
“I’m disappointed this misinformation occurred, but I am pleased to see spikes in searches because it reflects genuine interest and suggests that people are doing their research and trying to make informed decisions,” said J Martin Beal, an OB-GYN with Tulsa OB-GYN Associates.
“In the battle to fight misinformation, Google Trends can be an effective tool to help physicians recognise and proactively address false claims with patients,” Sajjadi said.