Couples that are trying to conceive typically become very familiar with their medical histories. When you struggle to become pregnant, you start searching for factors in your past and present that may have affected your reproductive health. While you’re looking back on past illnesses and medications, you may also wonder about the effect that your childhood immunizations had on your fertility.
During National Immunization Awareness Month, we’re publishing a series of posts to help you learn more about how vaccines at different stages of your life may (or may not) impact your fertility. Today, many parents are worried about the possible side effects of childhood vaccinations. Below, learn about the immunizations that you received as a child and whether they can cause any long-term side effects that you should consider while trying to conceive.
A brief history of childhood immunizations requirements
Vaccine recommendations are put into place to protect both individuals and the community as a whole. When a big enough percentage of a population is immunized against a communicable disease, it forms a sort of protective barrier against the likelihood of people in the community transmitting the disease.
The community immunity, or “herd immunity,” effect can protect infants and people who are unable to receive vaccines due to medical reasons from contracting the virus. When enough of the public is vaccinated against a particular virus, it makes it harder for the virus to spread and helps prevent a potential outbreak. The proportion of the community that must be vaccinated to achieve this herd immunity depends on the specific virus.
Over the years, public officials have realized the potential for virus outbreaks in schools. To try to protect students, states started requiring certain vaccinations before allowing students to enroll in public schools or daycares. The first school vaccination requirement was enacted in the 1850s to prevent smallpox transmission in Massachusetts schools. By 1900, almost half of the existing states had implemented vaccination requirements for children entering school.
In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed the Vaccination Assistance Act into law. This act allowed the CDC to promote mass immunization campaigns. Since then the federal government has funded a grant program to support childhood vaccination programs.
During the 1970s, measles outbreaks in Alaska and Los Angeles led public officials to impose strict enforcement of vaccination requirements. In 1977, after seeing the reduction in measles cases due to this enforcement, the nationwide Childhood Immunizations Initiative was formed. The initiative coordinated efforts between volunteers in the public and private sectors to determine where vaccinations were needed and help enforce state and local immunization requirements.
By 1980, all 50 states had laws concerning vaccination requirements for students entering public schools. At the time, these vaccine requirements included measles, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, mumps, pertussis, and hepatitis B.
Childhood immunizations: potential side effects
Today, each state has specific guidelines regarding the vaccines that a child must get before they enter public school or daycare. These guidelines are based on the CDC’s recommended immunization schedule. These recommendations include vaccinations against:
Hepatitis A and B—The hepatitis A vaccine is administered in two doses to children between 12 and 24 months old. Three doses of the hepatitis B vaccine are recommended during the first 18 months of a child’s life. Possible side effects of these vaccines include fever and soreness at the site of the injection. However, most symptoms last only one or two days. For both hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines, severe allergic reactions occur in about one out of one million doses administered.
Diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis—Diphtheria and pertussis, also called whooping cough, are potentially fatal respiratory infections. Tetanus is a severe infection that causes a painful tightening of muscles and usually affects the entire body. The vaccination for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis is given in two different forms. The DTaP vaccine is given to children younger than seven years, and the TDaP vaccine is given to adolescents and adults. Side effects of these vaccines are rare but may include swelling at the injection site, nausea and vomiting, and tiredness.
Pneumococcal conjugate—The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, also called PCV13, protects against pneumococcal diseases such as pneumonia and meningitis. These infections can have long-term side effects such as vision, hearing, and memory loss, seizures, and brain injury. The pneumococcal vaccine is administered in four doses to children during the first 15 months after birth. Side effects can include swelling, fever, and irritability.
Measles, mumps, and rubella—Before the MMR vaccine, measles, mumps, and rubella were very common in the United States. These infections can lead to serious health complications such as fever, deafness, and brain damage. The MMR vaccine is recommended for all children and adults who do not have evidence of immunity. Side effects may include soreness, fever, or rashes near the injection site. Moderate side effects are infrequent but may include temporary joint pain and stiffness as well as low platelet counts. Long-term side effects are extremely rare.
Varicella—This vaccine immunizes children against the chickenpox disease. Possible side effects may include soreness or rash near the injection site. However, getting the chickenpox vaccine is much safer than contracting the chickenpox disease, which is highly contagious.
Human papillomavirus—The HPV vaccine is recommended for children 11 to 12 years old. It is administered to children before they become sexually active because it is not effective against existing HPV infections. Side effects may include soreness, fever, and headaches.
Most people do not experience any adverse effects after receiving vaccinations. Severe allergic reactions to vaccines, as well as long-term side effects, are extremely rare. According to the CDC, none of the recommended vaccines carry risks to future fertility or reproductive health. In fact, many of the above vaccines are recommended for women who are trying to conceive.
Can certain childhood vaccinations actually protect reproductive health?
Over 40% of American teens now get vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV infection has been associated with reduced pregnancy rates and decreased semen quality. One study found that among men and women with no history of sexually transmitted infections, the vaccine had no adverse effects on fertility. In fact, the HPV vaccination was associated with improved chances of becoming pregnant among women with high risk of being exposed to the virus.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in females around the world. Most treatments for cervical cancer leave a woman unable to get pregnant. Because the HPV infection is a common cause of cervical cancer, this vaccine is an important step in protecting female reproductive health.
Additionally, vaccines against hepatitis B can help protect future fertility in women. Hepatitis B is the only form of hepatitis associated with decreased fertility. This disease can increase a woman’s risk of tubal and uterine infertility in women. Hepatitis A impairs the immune system and can make women more susceptible to pelvic infection.
If you attended public school, especially during the 1980s or later, you likely received childhood immunizations. Fortunately, you probably don’t have to worry about the effects of these vaccines on your reproductive health. In fact, if you aren’t up-to-date on your vaccines, your doctor will probably recommend some when you begin trying to conceive. For more information on recommended childhood vaccines and their potential side effects, visit the CDC website.