It’s about bloody time health experts listened to women
Could the Covid-19 vaccine have a short-term impact on your menstrual cycle? Thousands of women think so: ever since the vaccines became widely available, people who menstruate have been sharing stories about weird changes to their cycle following their shots. More than 30,000 reports of post-vaccine menstrual irregularity have been made to the UK’s medical regulator alone. In the US, researchers Kate Clancy and Katharine Lee have collected more than 140,000 reports from people who have noticed a change in their period post-vaccination.
For the most part, these concerns have been brushed off by health experts. Nothing to see here, the message basically was. Periods are often irregular! Now, however, the medical establishment is finally admitting that maybe all those women weren’t just making things up after all. This week the BMJ published a report by Dr Victoria Male, a lecturer in reproductive immunology at Imperial College London, noting that a link between the vaccine and menstrual changes was “plausible and should be investigated”. In the US, the National Institutes of Health recently awarded $1.67m to five research institutions to explore potential links between Covid-19 vaccination and menstrual changes.
Let me be very clear: overwhelming evidence shows that the Covid-19 vaccines are safe and effective. There are lots of non-alarming reasons why the vaccine might temporarily affect your cycle. Dr Male’s report, for example, notes that any link is probably the result of an immune response to the vaccination, rather than anything in the vaccine itself. While this still needs to be studied, previous studies show that the menstrual cycle can be affected by immune activation. Dr Male further notes that most people who report a change to their period after vaccination find it only lasts one cycle. There’s also no evidence that there is any effect on fertility.
There is no reason to be worried by a possible link between the Covid-19 vaccine and an abnormal period. What is worrying, however, is the abysmal way in which the issue has been handled. First, there’s the fact that participants in clinical coronavirus vaccine trials weren’t asked specific questions about changes to their menstrual cycle. Why did no one think that might be something worth collecting data on? Dr Kathryn Edwards, a professor who sits on an independent data monitoring committee for the Pfizer vaccine, told NPR earlier this year that the accelerated speed of development of the vaccines meant that everyone’s energy was focused on spotting dangerous side effects. “I want people to understand that we’re not blowing them off,” Edwards told NPR, “but we have some priorities that we have to have.”
Here’s the thing though: building trust in a vaccine should be at the top of the list of priorities. Approximately 26% of people in the world are actively menstruating. A data gap surrounding such a large population is a breeding ground for misinformation. While the medical establishment has ignored or dismissed links between vaccines and menstruation, plenty of armchair experts have been busy spreading dangerous conspiracy theories about. “Vaccine hesitancy among young women is largely driven by false claims that Covid-19 vaccines could harm their chances of future pregnancy,” Dr Male wrote in the BMJ. “Failing to thoroughly investigate reports of menstrual changes after vaccination is likely to fuel these fears.” Of course it is.
You know what really makes me see red? All the excuses that have come up recently about how difficult it is to study whether vaccines might cause menstrual disruptions. “The menstrual cycle itself is just so incredibly difficult to study, because there are so many other things that may impact it,” one (female) expert told NPR, for example. I’m sure it is difficult! But so is going to Mars. Nobody seems to shrug their shoulders about that and say “nah, too hard”. That sort of defeatist attitude seems to pop up a lot when it comes to women’s health, however. I hope this pandemic does something to change that. Recent months have been a painful reminder that it doesn’t matter how amazing a vaccine is; it’s only effective if enough people take it. And if you want to have any hope of that happening, then the medical industry needs to start taking women seriously.
Cara Delevingne wants to ‘peg the patriarchy’
The model (who comes from an extremely well-connected aristocratic family) turned up at the Met gala wearing a white vest emblazoned with the phrase. Not only did that get a massive eyeroll from people sick of performative activism, it sparked a trademark controversy. It seems that someone filed a trademark for the phrase in 2017. First we leverage intellectual property law to monetize the patriarchy, then we peg it, I guess! In other news, AOC also caused quite a kerfuffle with her Met gala dress.
Facebook knows Instagram is toxic to teen girls
“We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” said a slide from one internal presentation in 2019. I don’t know what the next slide said, but it might as well have been: “but we just don’t care”.
Indian teenager forced to cover legs with curtain at exam centre
The 19-year-old was informed that she couldn’t sit her exam in the shorts she’d turned up in and was forced to wrap a curtain around her legs.
Hundreds of Iraqi women run for parliament
951 women, about 30% of the total number of candidates, are running for election to the country’s 329-seat Council of Representatives.
Women can say no to sex if Roe falls, says architect of Texas abortion ban
Oh, OK. That’s alright then!
The week in puddingarchy
I am delighted to inform you that the World Black Pudding Throwing Championships has finally returned to Ramsbottom after a pandemic-induced absence. People come from across the UK to throw black puddings at giant Yorkshire puddings dangling from a 20ft high plinth. The championship is apparently inspired by an incident from the War of the Roses: the two sides ran out of weapons and started throwing food at each other instead. If only all war was like that. Fewer drones, more puddings please!
Arwa Mahdawi’s new book, Strong Female Lead, is available for pre-order.