Menstrual Cycle Changes After Covid Shots Should Be Investigated To Prevent Misinformation, U.K. Immunologist Urges



Changes to periods and unexpected vaginal bleeding after getting vaccinated against Covid-19 should be investigated, according to an immunology expert writing in the British Medical Journal on Wednesday, who said there is no evidence the vaccines affect fertility and that “robust research” would help tackle rampant misinformation. 

Key Facts

More than 30,000 women across the U.K. have reported a disruption to their period or unexpected vaginal bleeding after receiving a Covid-19 vaccine, wrote Dr. Victoria Male, a lecturer in reproductive immunology at Imperial College London. 

The changes reported, which include heavier than usual and delayed periods, are short-lived and usually return “to normal the following cycle,” Male said. 

Male stressed that there is “no evidence that Covid-19 vaccination adversely affects fertility” and an analysis by the U.K.’s medicines regulator “does not support a link” between the vaccines and the reports. 

Nevertheless, Male said a “link is plausible and should be investigated” in order to tackle hesitancy among young women driven largely by “false claims that Covid-19 vaccines could harm their chances of future pregnancy.”  

Failing to investigate reports thoroughly “is likely to fuel these fears,” Male warned, who said future clinical trials should actively ask participants to report changes to their menstrual cycles or vaginal bleeding. 

“The effects of medical interventions on menstruation should not be an afterthought,” Male said.

Crucial Quote

“It is biologically plausible that vaccines can affect menstrual cycles through short term disruptions to the immune system,” said Dr. Gemma Sharp, a senior lecturer at the University of Bristol, who said this applies to “all vaccines,” not just those for Covid-19. Viral infection and illness are also known to disrupt the menstrual cycle, Sharp said—there are reports from people with Covid-19—as can many of the pressures associated with the pandemic, like weight changes and stress. “Short-lived changes to the menstrual cycle are part of the body’s normal response to things like stress and immune disruptions. There is no reason to suspect these changes would indicate any long term effects on health or fertility.”

Big Number 

47 million. That’s how many women have been vaccinated in the U.K.. Of those, 30,000 reported changes to their menstrual cycle. The changes were reported in people receiving mRNA and adenovirus Covid-19 vaccines, which cover the Pfizer and Moderna shots and the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson shots, respectively. Male said the changes are likely a result of the immune response to vaccination rather than a “specific vaccine component” and noted other vaccines associated with menstrual changes, such as for HPV.

Key Background 

The problem of sex bias in medical research is not a new one. It’s persisted for decades and women are routinely left out of crucial research (this lack of representation is even worse for trans people). The initial exclusion of pregnant or breastfeeding women from Covid-19 vaccination underscored this issue and many regulators either withheld the shot or allowed pregnant persons to make the decision at their discretion. False or misleading claims about how Covid-19 vaccines can affect fertility or pregnancy circulating online has prompted many women to eschew vaccination altogether. The CDC encourages pregnant people, those looking to get pregnant and those breastfeeding to get the “safe and effective” vaccine, especially given the increased risk of severe disease in unvaccinated pregnant people.   

Surprising Fact

Nicki Minaj’s cousin’s friend’s swollen balls became the unlikely focal point for a worldwide discussion over Covid-19 vaccines and fertility this week after the singer listed them as the reason she was not getting vaccinated. Health officials in Trinidad and Tobago, where her cousin’s friend is located, called the claim bogus, the White House invited her for a call and she engaged in a bizarre spat with a leading British health official and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Further Reading

Menstrual changes after covid-19 vaccination (BMJ)

Covid vaccine does not affect fertility but misinformation persists (Guardian)

Trinidad Investigated Nicki Minaj’s Covid Vaccine Story — And Says It’s A ‘False Claim’ (Forbes)

Researchers will study whether the vaccines affect women’s periods. (NYT)

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