For The Weekly Pulse (a revisit of an old Ms. column!), we’ve scoured the most trusted journalistic sources—and, of course, our Twitter feeds—to bring you this week’s most important news stories related to health and wellness.
This week, we discuss reports of people experiencing heavier periods after receiving the vaccine, and how the lack of research on menstruation is hampering our ability to combat vaccine disinformation. We also provide updates on the vaccine rollout both in the U.S. and worldwide, as well as track the latest news in the battle for reproductive justice. Finally, health experts weigh in on the verdict of the Derek Chauvin trial.
The Lack of Research on Menstruation is Fueling Vaccine Disinformation
In last week’s Pulse, we discussed the disappointing (but not surprising) lack of urgency behind producing male birth control and the health risks taken on by birth control users—but what accounts for the lack of urgency behind research on menstruation? And why is has it taken a pandemic for people to openly talk about periods?
Recently, menstruators have taken to social media to discuss experiencing “heavier-than-normal periods” after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Kathryn Clancy, a professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois, tweeted about her own post-vaccine menstruation-related concerns:
A colleague told me she has heard from others that their periods were heavy post-vax. I’m curious whether other menstruators have noticed changes too? I’m a week and a half out from dose 1 of Moderna, got my period maybe a day or so early, and am gushing like I’m in my 20s again.— Dr. Kate Clancy 🏳️🌈 (@KateClancy) February 24, 2021
Dr. Clancy received so many responses highlighting similar experiences, she and a colleague decided to run a survey to collect data on post-COVID vaccination cycle changes.
“I am 3 weeks out from my first Moderna shot and started my period in the middle of a [birth control] pack,” one wrote. “That’s never happened to me in 12 years of taking the pill. I never even spot between periods.”
Let’s clarify something: The “benefits of vaccination far outweigh those of infection with a vaccine-preventable disease,” according to the World Health Organization. Additionally, neither the CDC nor the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) lists being on your period as a reason to not get vaccinated. And certainly, amplifying false conspiracy theories—like claiming your period can be affected simply by being around vaccinated people—are harmfully adding to an already vast web of disinformation about vaccines.
However, this doesn’t mean menstruators should be prevented from voicing real concerns and sharing their experiences because ultimately, there has not been any substantial effort to research the possible links between COVID-19 vaccines and changes to the menstrual cycle.
Moreover, there’s a more general research gap when it comes to including people who menstruate in clinical trials for pharmaceuticals, other than those aimed at reproductive treatments. Yale School of Medicine’s Alice Lu-Culligan and Randi Hutter Epstein wrote for The New York Times:
“For much of modern medical history, women were not included in medical trials because of their periods or because they might be pregnant. Investigators worried that fluctuating hormones would add too many variables, confounding their studies. …
“In essence, they thought that the female body would ruin the research. In 1993, a federal law mandated the inclusion of women in government-funded trials because, as activists pointed out, too little was known about how new drugs and treatments affected women’s health.”
Because of this research gap, gynecologists can only make educated guesses about what might be causing some people to experience heavier periods after vaccination. Gloria A. Bachmann, M.D., associate dean for women’s health at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, noted:
“Menstrual cycles can be altered or influenced by many factors, including stress, poor sleep, exercise, and some medications. Therefore, it wouldn’t be that unusual for some women to notice, after receiving the vaccination, changes in their period, such as it coming on earlier, or having a heavier flow, or noticing more cramping than they usually have.”
Again, this is not a reason to delay vaccination … but it does point to our society’s reluctance to openly discuss menstruation and fund research on it. Dr. Jen Gunter, a gynecologist, even suspects the symptoms were the result of stress related to receiving a vaccine—a known cause of menstrual cycle irregularity—rather than any mechanism in the vaccine itself.
“There is no biologic mechanism that would account for [the] disruption of the menstrual cycle following receipt of the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Mark Turrentine, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas.
Dr. Turrentine also noted that unusual vaginal bleeding “was not a side effect reported in any of the clinical trials from the vaccine manufacturers,” adding, “no large-scale adverse events regarding irregular menstrual bleeding have been noted to date.”
Overall, it’s clear menstruating people need to be included in clinical trials—the lack of data on the subject means we can’t know for sure one way or another how the vaccine might affect menstruation. For now, those who have received the vaccine can report their symptoms using the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.
But long-term, the solution is including tracking menstruation and documenting menstrual changes as a routine part of clinical trials, according to Lu-Culligan and Epstein. “Like the fevers reported after the vaccines, a transient change in one’s period may not be bad for your overall health or have any lasting effects, but it’s still informative,” they said.
“Menstruation is something we don’t know enough about,” said Dr. Hugh Taylor, chair of the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine. “It’s an important indicator of a person’s health, like any other bodily function.”
Derek Chauvin’s Indictment: “Accountability, Not Justice”
On Tuesday, a jury found Derek Chauvin guilty of all three charges leveled against him—second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Dr. Jamila Perritt, president and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health, called the decision “accountability, not justice”:
“Today’s verdict reflects accountability but, make no mistake, there is no justice here. We honor, hold space and collectively grieve the stolen life of George Floyd, and recognize his death as part of a larger system grounded in the carceral frameworks and white supremacy values that allow this violence to happen. Without dismantling these systems, we will continue to see these circumstances play out again and again.
“The community of physician advocates … carry the heavy reality that many of us and the communities we care for are not safe, [and] we dream for a future where our patients, our families and our communities can thrive. …
“Until Black lives are safe, until Brown lives are safe, until we are all safe, we have work to do.”
Chauvin’s sentencing trial will be in about eight weeks. Until then, he will wait in a correctional facility in Minnesota.
Devastatingly, only an hour after the verdict dropped, celebrations were cut short and many across the country were retraumatized by the murder of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio.
“We are in the midst of some excruciating pain and grief and trauma right now. It’s a reminder, particularly for people of color, that we live in an America that cannot treat all of its citizens equitably,” said @PatBlessman. pic.twitter.com/s54ppgUMKE— Ms. Magazine (@MsMagazine) April 21, 2021
COVID-19 Vaccine Updates: Supply Chain Issues and Vaccine Pauses Contributing to a Prolonged Pandemic
+ The Biden administration has hit its goal of delivering 200 million doses within the president’s first 100 days in office. Still, only 26.54 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated—a long way off from what experts predict is needed to reach herd immunity.
Public health experts are pivoting away from trying to reach herd immunity, however, as it becomes more clear that the “unwillingness of some Americans to get vaccinated […] likely has put the number out of reach.” Instead, many are focusing on simply building up as much population-level immunity as possible, in order to maintain better control over outbreaks.
+ On Friday, April 23, an advisory panel for the CDC will discuss the FDA and CDC’s decision to temporarily halt use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine following concerns over blood clots. The panel is expected to end the pause of the vaccine’s rollout and recommend a warning statement be added to fact sheets given to patients before receiving the vaccine.
An Axios-Ipsos poll found 88 percent of Americans believe the “FDA and CDC are being responsible by recommending a pause.” Although experts were initially concerned the pause could contribute to vaccine hesitancy, so far polling data does not indicate that is the case.
+ COVAX, the effort to share and distribute vaccines worldwide, is trying to secure more doses following supply problems with the AstraZeneca vaccine. Further contributing to vaccine shortages, India paused exports on doses manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, amid surging case rates domestically.
COVAX has called on wealthy countries to donate extra vaccine supply in order to meet its goal of distributing two billion doses to 190 countries in one year. So far, COVAX says it has secured 1.53 billion doses and is currently negotiating a deal to secure an additional 635 million doses.
+ The slow rollout of vaccines is prolonging the pandemic in the WHO European Region, which is the “ the second most affected by SARS-CoV-2 of all the world’s regions, with the total number of deaths fast approaching 1 million and the total number of cases about to surpass 45 million.”
Accordingly, the European Union is gearing up for a legal fight against AstraZeneca because the pharmaceutical company has not delivered on the number of vaccines promised. “AstraZeneca has unfortunately under-produced and under-delivered. And this painfully, of course, reduced the speed of the vaccination campaign,” said European Commision President Ursula von der Leyen during a press conference in March.
The European Medicines Agency found the benefits of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine outweigh the risk “despite possible link to rare blood clots with low blood platelets.”
+ The Biden administration rescinded a Trump-era ban on using fetal tissue obtained through abortions for government-funded research, restrictions strongly opposed by the scientific community and “designed to appease anti-abortion advocates,” writes Alison Durkee for Forbes.
The new rules will allow scientists and researchers to use fetal tissue from elective abortions to study and develop necessary treatments for diseases like COVID-19, AIDS, diabetes and cancer.
“This is one of the most offensive pieces of legislation I’ve heard this year,” said state Rep. London Lamar. “This is not a pro-life piece of legislation. What you are doing is further using your legislative powers to bring trauma on women who make that choice.”
🚨🚨 THIS IS NOT A DRILL 🚨 🚨— Tennessee Advocates for Planned Parenthood (@TNAdvocatesPP) April 20, 2021
The Medical Tissue Burial Bill has passed the TN House and is headed to the Senate. Urge our lawmakers to stay out of personal medical decisions and instead find solutions that actually improve health care in Tennessee: https://t.co/rq18jkZSgt pic.twitter.com/TgrpoU80GP
+ In a unanimous vote, the Nevada state Senate approved a proposal to allow pharmacists to provide patients with birth control without authorization from a physician or other health care provider. SB 190 aims to “expand the scope of services” pharmacists can provide to people who are unable to access doctor’s appointments.
+ Three bills designed to limit abortion access in Oklahoma are on their way to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk:
- The first would suspend physicians’ licenses physicians’ licenses for up to a year of they performed an abortion;
- the second would require physicians who perform abortions to be certified in obstetrics and gynecology;
- the third would ban abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat.
HB1102 classifies abortion as illegal unprofessional conduct. Doctors & patients face criminal charges— Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice (@OKRepro) April 20, 2021
HB2441 bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat at 6wks
HB1904 strictly limits which medical professionals can perform abortions; serves as an outright ban on the procedure 2/3 pic.twitter.com/VytDIsStlj
Gov. Stitt has previously said he would sign any anti-abortion legislation sent his way.
+ Two-thirds of Americans are against legislation that limits transgender health and rights, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. This opposition includes majorities majorities in every political ideology and age group.
+ Some better news: Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed legislation that would have made the state’s sexual education regulations “some of the strictest in the nation when it comes to teaching about LGBTQ issues.”
SB 1456 would have barred all discussion concerning gender identity, sexual orientation or HIV/AIDS in sexual education classes unless guardians are notified and approve instruction in advance. In a statement, Gov. Ducey said the legislation was “overly broad and vague” and said it would lead to “unintended consequences.“