In recent weeks, an increasing number of people have reported that getting one of the covid-19 vaccines had an unusual effect on their periods. Some reported spotting, heavier bleeding than normal, and general irregularity in their menstrual cycle. While there’s reason to be suspicious of the sources of some of these rumors—influencers in the wellness community aren’t always the most trustworthy sources of medical advice—it’s possible that there’s merit to the concerns. Unfortunately, there aren’t yet any clear conclusions on whether the covid-19 vaccine impacts menstruation.
This oversight isn’t new—it’s just the latest instance of the medical field dismissing the healthcare needs of people who menstruate.
When the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was first put on pause, Twitter users were quick to point out that it was actually much more common to develop a blood clot after taking a birth control pill than it was to develop a blood clot as a result of the vaccine. The risks are undeniably different—doctors say that blood clots caused by birth control tend to occur in the legs, while the more serious blood clots being caused by the J&J vaccine were occurring in the brain. Still, medical professionals regularly ignore and minimize the health concerns related to menstruation, which is why the potential impact of different medical treatments on a person’s cycle is often a question mark—an irresponsible oversight that can put people’s lives at risk.
Dr. Jen Gunter recently wrote a blog post diving into the possible reasons that the covid-19 vaccine could affect (or appear to affect) a person’s menstrual cycle. According to Gunter, a possible explanation for post-vax period irregularity could center around the fact that the endometrium—the lining of the uterus—is part of the immune systems. However, it’s impossible to come to any conclusions without more information, and while the covid-19 vaccine trials tracked other mild side effects, Gunter told Mother Jones that they didn’t include data on menstrual changes. “People assume a period that is heavy or late is not bothersome, but you could only assume that if you believe periods aren’t important,” she said.
Experts also caution people about spreading rumors about how the vaccine impacts the menstrual cycle—like a number of influencers have already begun to do on social media— as it could increase vaccine distrust. “Hopefully, over time we will learn more,” Dr. Jen Gunter writes in her blog post. “In the meantime, think of potential menstrual irregularities as a vaccine side effect like fever, it’s a sign the immune system is being activated.”
Although the potential effects of the covid-19 vaccine on menstruation appear to be relatively minor in the scale of possible vaccine side effects, the response to these concerns reflects the larger lack of medical attention given to the bodily processes traditionally associated with cis women’s bodies, including menstruation.