The COVID-19 vaccine has many well-known side effects. Fever, headache, fatigue. However, this week Dr Male, a leading immunologist specialising in fertility is calling for an investigation into a potential link between the vaccine and menstrual changes.
This comes as the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) received over 30,000 reports of changes to menstrual cycles after having their COVID-19 vaccine. The symptoms include early, heavy, or painful periods for around one to two months after having the jab.
However, this is not the first time this link has emerged. Earlier this year medical anthropologist Dr Kate Clancy sparked interest in a potential link between the vaccine and menstrual changes after tweeting about an unusually heavy period. The tweet received hundreds of responses from women with similar experiences. After launching a survey to fully understand the severity of the issue, Dr Clancy, along with former colleague Dr Katherine Lee, found that more than 140,000 women noticed a change in their menstrual cycle post-vaccination.
There is speculation within the medical community over the possible reasons the vaccine may impact the menstrual cycle.
Firstly, the endometrium, or the lining of the uterus, is part of the immune system. This means there may be chemical signals following the vaccine that cause the womb lining to shed.
Secondly, sex hormones tend to be very responsive to mental or physical changes within the body. Menstrual cycles can change from things as minor as diet to increased stress levels. This suggests that a shock to the immune system from having a vaccine may alter the hormonal balance and initiate changes to the menstrual cycle.
‘Nobody who is busy running away from a lion stops to reproduce,’ highlights Emma Duncan, a specialist in endocrinology. ‘Your entire physiology is focused on dealing with the stress at hand’.
This theory seems extremely viable considering the side effects are reported for all vaccines, both mRNA and adenovirus vectored, and have even been reported after being infected with COVID itself. Similarly, these side-effects have been observed following other vaccines such as HPV and flu.
Is it harmful?
Scientists are emphasising that there is ‘masses of evidence’ that these changes are not permanent, harmful, or linked to miscarriage or infertility.
Despite this, anti-vaccine and conspiracy groups are taking to social media to spread malaise over the findings. They have been suggesting it lends credence to their theories that the vaccine is linked to infertility and even part of a mass sterilisation plot.
This could be detrimental to vaccine uptake in young women. Young women as a demographic remain one of the most hesitant groups and, after having their claims consistently dismissed, are likely to feel neglected. As these issues come to light, they will perpetuate a feeling of distrust and disillusionment with the medical community.
As Dr Male explains, an investigation must take place to ensure these side-effects are tracked and explained to eschew the spread of misinformation. Although it is not harmful, it still warrants further investigation to allow women to remain fully informed and prepare accordingly.
Lessons never learned
The medical community is consistently accused of being disinterested in advancing knowledge and research into menstrual impacts.
This has brought this issue to the fore. Prolonging investigation into this possible link, or dismissing claims under the premise that women misunderstand their bodies, has allowed conspiracy theories regarding infertility and pregnancy to metastasise. Early recognition and assurance from the medical community may have mitigated these impacts. As Male highlights, ‘participants are unlikely to report changes to periods unless specifically asked’.
This alludes to a broader issue whereby women are disbelieved or misunderstood within the medical establishment. It has been especially apparent throughout the pandemic when women struggled to access vital contraceptive pills or were denied home abortions.
Overall, the vaccine is safe and effective. Reporting changes to menstrual cycles without accompanying assurances and factual information that there is no link to infertility or long-term reproductive issues may to unnecessarily increase hesitancy in young women.
This stands to be a lesson for the medical community to ensure medical interventions consider menstrual changes as potential side effects examined and observed in preliminary trials, and are responsive to concerns voiced by women from the get-go.
About the Author: Jessica Culnane
Jessica Culnane is a contributing Features Writer with in-depth knowledge of policy, politics, and economics. She’s interested in technological advancements, business developments, data, and culture.
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