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World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva. (WHO) World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva. (WHO)

World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva. (WHO)

Madison Czopek
By Madison Czopek January 27, 2023

WHO vaccine research aimed for contraception, not sterilization

If Your Time is short

  • A World Health Organization task force created in the 1970s helped develop a vaccine designed to temporarily prevent the production of a hormone that supports a pregnancy.  

  • Researchers were not directed to create a vaccine that caused permanent sterilization.

  • An obstetrics and gynecology clinical professor told PolitiFact that pregnancy prevention is temporary and reversible. In contrast, sterilization is permanent and irreversible.

The United Nations’ World Health Organization is tasked with promoting health and well-being worldwide. But online misinformation often targets the agency, claiming it’s trying to depopulate the planet. 

One recent Instagram post alleged that the WHO is researching a vaccine to sterilize people.

In the Instagram video shared Jan. 9, a woman identified as Dr. Rima Laibow said she opposed vaccines, at least in part, because they might be linked to sterilization. 

"Well, first of all, let’s start with the fact that the World Health Organization has decided that we have 90% too many people," Laibow said in the video. "The World Health Organization has been working since 1974 on vaccines to create permanent sterility."

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

The video clip is from a 2009 episode of "Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura," a show that digs into different conspiracy theories and ran from 2009 to 2012 on TruTV. According to TruTV’s website, that episode centered on "the world’s elite" who meet annually and "decide how they will run the world." The episode description said some people believe those elites plan to "thin out the population through disease-and vaccines."

It’s unclear exactly what Laibow based her claims on. Laibow’s LinkedIn account said she’s been practicing "drug free medicine and psychiatry" since 1970. She has previously spread misinformation about the WHO, and her efforts to sell nanoparticles of silver to treat Ebola and COVID-19 have drawn scrutiny from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

The WHO has researched whether a vaccine could be used to prevent pregnancy temporarily. But we did not find evidence proving that the group is creating a vaccine to permanently stop people’s ability to reproduce.

The Instagram post muddles the differences between pregnancy prevention and sterilization.

Pregnancy prevention is temporary and reversible, said Dr. Marc Feldstein, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. "Sterilization implies permanence," he said.

Sterilization for women includes the closing off or removal of the fallopian tubes. Sterilization for men includes a vasectomy, a surgery that blocks the tubes that carry sperm.

Feldstein said he knew of no evidence that the WHO has developed a vaccine that permanently sterilizes people. PolitiFact reached out to the WHO but did not hear back.

Featured Fact-check

1970s task force researched birth control vaccines

In 1972, the WHO created a "Task Force on Vaccines for Fertility Regulation." In 1974 — the year Laibow singled out in her claim — the task force evaluated whether vaccines containing a variety of hormones, tissues and molecules could reduce fertility, according to a 1991 WHO review of the task force’s goals and research. 

The review said that the group’s work resulted in a prototype anti-HCG vaccine that could be used as a form of birth control.

HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin, is a hormone the placenta produces during pregnancy, according to the Cleveland Clinic. HCG triggers the body to produce more estrogen and progesterone. Together, the hormones support a pregnancy.

Researchers wanted to know whether a vaccine inducing antibodies against HCG would stop the body’s progesterone production and therefore prevent pregnancy. Research continues, but some clinical trials suggested the vaccine was effective. A 1988 phase one clinical trial of an anti-HCG vaccine involving 30 volunteers showed "potentially contraceptive levels of antibodies to HCG" for up to six months. No adverse reactions were reported.

Clinical trials by researchers at the National Institute of Immunology in New Delhi on another anti-HCG vaccine showed the vaccine was effective at temporarily preventing pregnancy. That vaccine used a slightly different approach than the WHO-favored version, but both were anti-HCG vaccines. 

A 2021 article about the status of contraceptive vaccines written by researchers from Government Medical College in Chandigarh, India, said that all anti-HCG vaccines currently being researched require multiple injections to achieve and maintain the contraceptive effect. Continuing studies are meant to develop vaccine formulas that can provide long-lasting pregnancy prevention after just one dose, according to the article. 

That 2021 article also noted that the "block in fertility (is) reversible" with anti-HCG vaccines.

Our ruling

An Instagram video claimed, "the World Health Organization has been working since 1974 on vaccines to create permanent sterility."

PolitiFact found no evidence to support this claim.

A WHO task force researched contraceptive vaccines and helped create an anti-HCG vaccine designed to temporarily prevent the production of a hormone that supports a pregnancy. But that’s not the same as sterilization. 

Sterilization is permanent and irreversible; the anti-HCG vaccine’s effect was temporary.

We rate this claim False.

PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

RELATED: No, the COVID-19 vaccines are not weapons of mass destruction

Our Sources

Instagram post, Jan. 9, 2023

Email interview with Dr. Marc Feldstein, a clinical associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, Jan. 24, 2023

Factly, 2009 show based on conspiracy theories is shared as proof of WHO working on COVID-19 vaccines to create permanent sterility, Jan. 4, 2022

Health Feedback, Claim that squalene in vaccines causes autoimmune diseases and Gulf War Syndrome is unsubstantiated by evidence, April 26, 2022

The United States Department of Justice, Department Of Justice acts to stop sale of "nano silver" product as treatment for COVID-19, Nov. 13, 2020

The Journal News, Ebola treatment claims by former Croton doc draw FDA warning, Oct. 11, 2014

U.S. Food and Drug Administration - Inspections, Compliance, Enforcement, and Criminal Investigations, Natural Solutions Foundation warning letter, Sept. 23, 2014 

LinkedIn, Rima E. Laibow, MD, accessed Jan. 20, 2023

AAP Factcheck, Doctor’s WHO conspiracy deserves to be exterminated, Aug. 11, 2022

IMDb, Secret Societies, accessed Jan. 20, 2023

TruTV, Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura, archived Oct. 8, 2010

National Library of Medicine, The WHO Task Force on Vaccines for Fertility Regulation. Its formation, objectives and research activities, published January 1991

Cleveland Clinic, Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, accessed Jan. 20, 2023

PNAS, A vaccine that prevents pregnancy in women, Aug. 30, 1994

Mayo Clinic, Birth control - sterilization, accessed Jan. 20, 2023

Poynter, International Fact-checking Network: Empowering fact-checkers worldwide, accessed Jan. 24, 2023

Health Feedback, accessed Jan. 24, 2023

World Health Organization, Health Feedback, accessed Jan. 24, 2023

Science Direct, Chorionic Gonadotropin Vaccine, accessed Jan. 25, 2023

Open Exploration, A unique vaccine for birth control and treatment of advanced stage cancers secreting ectopically human chorionic gonadotropin, Dec. 31, 2021

Medwin Publishers, Current status of contraceptive vaccines, January 30, 2021

Science Direct, Contraceptive vaccine, accessed Jan. 26, 2023

American Journal of Reproductive Immunology, Contraceptive vaccines: Success, status, and future perspective, June 6, 2011

The Lancet, Phase I clinical trial of a World Health Organization birth control vaccine, June 11, 1988

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Sterilization for women and men, accessed Jan. 26, 2023

World Health Organization, Fertility regulating vaccines, Aug. 17-18, 1992

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WHO vaccine research aimed for contraception, not sterilization

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