Shortly after the general public had access to the COVID vaccines, women started reaching out to other women regarding their periods. Many women reported changes, from heavier bleeding with large clots to an earlier than anticipated period, intense pain, or missed periods altogether.
After months of women reaching out to each other on social media and over 5,000 reports to VAERS in the U.S. alone, studies are finally underway to determine the possible impact the COVID vaccines have on women’s reproductive health.
According to the NIH’s announcement of the study, it recognizes:
Regular menstruation is a complex function that involves the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, ovaries, and responsiveness from the endometrial lining of the uterus, among other tissues. Regular ovulation and menstruation can therefore be an indicator of whole body health and indeed has been called by some the “fifth vital sign.” Due to the intricate interplay of tissues, cells, and signaling (including hormonal and other endocrine signals), the menstrual cycle can be acutely sensitive to internal or environmental variables: temporary changes in menstrual cyclicity or characteristics (duration, flow, or accompanying symptoms such as pain) can be seen in response to changes in stress, weight, diet, medications, inflammatory reactions, and systemic illness.
While anecdotal first person reports of menstrual changes in response to SARS-CoV-2 vaccines exist, these associations, and their long-term consequences, have not been investigated in a rigorous or systematic manner. Clinical trials for the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson SARS-CoV-2 vaccine seem to have collected last menstrual period (LMP) data (to exclude current pregnancies), but have not collected menstrual cycle outcomes post-vaccine.1
NIH Launches Study to Look at Women’s Health
The NIH has finally launched a study. While their purpose seems to be slanted toward a certain outcome, to reduce vaccine hesitancy,2 we can hope it will shed light on the broad range of side effects women are having. Many are hoping it will also help validate the concern women have in why they are refusing the vaccine as it relates to concerns with fertility and health. However, there are concerns with the study as it appears to only have been open for application for one day. According to the study announcement, the key dates for the study are1:
May 17, 2021
First Available Due Date:
June 17, 2021
June 18, 20211
Considerations to earn the grant were: the total cost couldn’t exceed $300,000 and the study had to be completed inside of a year. Five awards were granted to Boston University, Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins University, Michigan State University, and Oregon Health and Science University.
Women’s Health Concerns Around the Globe
Israel has also launched a study on the effects of the mRNA vaccines on the ovary reserves, fertility issues, and vaccine adverse reactions.3 The year-long study began in February of 2021 and is set to go through February of 2022.
The UK is also seeing many women concerned about their cycles in relation to the COVID vaccines. In a recent BMJ (British Medical Journal) editorial, the writer urged for more follow-up on the possible link between the vaccinations and menstrual disruptions. The article stated, “A link is plausible and should be investigated.”4
Common side effects of covid-19 vaccination listed by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) include a sore arm, fever, fatigue, and myalgia. Changes to periods and unexpected vaginal bleeding are not listed, but primary care clinicians and those working in reproductive health are increasingly approached by people who have experienced these events shortly after vaccination. More than 30,000 reports of these events had been made to MHRA’s yellow card surveillance scheme for adverse drug reactions by 2 September 2021, across all covid-19 vaccines currently offered.4
The article concludes:
One important lesson is that the effects of medical interventions on menstruation should not be an afterthought in future research. Clinical trials provide the ideal setting in which to differentiate between menstrual changes caused by interventions from those that occur anyway, but participants are unlikely to report changes to periods unless specifically asked. Information about menstrual cycles and other vaginal bleeding should be actively solicited in future clinical trials, including trials of covid-19 vaccines.4
A publication from the University of British Columbia in Canada also issued a statement. While the article did suggest that other vaccines have been known to alter menstrual regularity, it stated:
In sum, we know very little of the side effects of any vaccine, let alone the current vaccines available for COVID-19, on menstruating and post-menopausal women.5
The article urged women to get vaccinated anyway and concluded with:
There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine alters menstruation or menopause long-term. Whether COVID-19 vaccination is behind the reported cases of postmenopausal bleeding, or menstrual changes, remains to be investigated. And this again highlights the need for additional research on women’s health, in general. For example, had there been more concerted research efforts examining menstruation and menopausal physiology, the current issue of possible vaccine side effects may have been avoided (or at least better understood!).5
Women Take Their Health into Their Own Hands
Friends Katharine Lee, a research fellow in the Division of Public Health Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, and her friend, Kate Clancy, who studies the menstrual cycle at the University of Illinois, shared their personal experiences with each other. After seeing they both had unusual periods following vaccination, they decided to open an online forum asking other women what they’d experienced. After hundreds of responses rolled in from a general Twitter post, the two decided to launch a formal study.
Both researchers describe themselves as “pro-vaccine,” especially given the dangers of COVID-19. Still they’re troubled by the reports they’ve collected that some people are having their concerns dismissed out of hand by doctors. That’s the sort of dismissiveness that can seed mistrust, Lee and Clancy note, and it’s happening in part, they believe, because changes to menstruation are not officially listed as a possible side effect.6
In a recent tweet7, Clancy reported they had not been chosen for the NIH funding they had applied for even though they had already garnered thousands of responses and their study was already underway in the same manner the studies were to be carried out.
CDC’s Response to Women’s Health Concerns
There seems to be mixed messages from the CDC in a September Chicago Tribune article.
Despite reports earlier this month that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had begun research into abnormal menstruation following vaccination, the institution is not conducting further research into the 1,589 incidents of “menstrual irregularity” that have been logged into its reporting system, according to Martha Sharan, a public affairs officer for the CDC’s Vaccine Task Force.
“At this time, CDC is not seeing any safety concerns that warrant additional surveillance of irregular menstrual symptoms reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System,” Sharan said in an email to the Tribune.8
Sharan said the reports, recorded through the end of July, amount to “a very small number,” considering the more than 300 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines that have been administered.8
Director of Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a branch of the NIH funding the study mentioned above, Dr. Diana Bianchi, also weighed in:
Bianchi said that although the CDC numbers are low, the actual number of people experiencing abnormal periods after a vaccine shot may be much higher, because the system relies on people voluntarily responding to it.
“I would bet that most people don’t even know about it,” Bianchi said.
The reports made to the CDC system are in line with the symptoms that have been discussed more widely online.8