A message claiming women should not take the COVID-19 vaccine five days before and after their period and also while menstruating, as their immunity is low during this time is being shared widely on social media. While experts BOOM spoke to said there is not enough scientific evidence to substantiate this claim they also observed that no studies have been conducted to check whether COVID-19 vaccines are affecting women's periods.
Gynecologists are of the view that there is no harm in taking the vaccine when women are on their periods, as no data suggests a woman's immunity will be affected. But they also noted that there is a lack of research on the post vaccination effects on menstruation since the same is not a factor asked about during vaccine trials.
India has till date, apart from female health workers, vaccinated women from the age of 45 years and above, an age group closer to the menopausal stage. This group, has yet to report any changes to their menstrual cycles or flow during periods post vaccinations and experts believe given the social taboo around menstruation in the country, the reporting won't happen easily. Both these factors have led to no data or research on the number of women experiencing any impact on their menstrual cycles post vaccinations.
But with many countries including the US having opened vaccinations to all age groups, more reports are out about women facing menstrual issues post the vaccination. This has led to discussions around the topic and whether research is the need of the hour in the same.
Doctors BOOM spoke to also seem worried that after misinformation that the COVID-19 vaccine causes infertility scared many women and families, this new message that vaccines will impact women's menstrual cycles, will fuel the existing vaccine hesitancy.
Viral Message On Taking Vaccine During Periods
The message circulating as a text message as well as in the form of an image reads, "As vaccination is starting from May 1st to above 18... it's very important to check our periods n take vaccination... don't take it before 5 days or after 5 days of our periods... bcuz our immunity power will be very less during periods.. n.. dosage of vaccination first decreases our immunity n later it builds immunity power.. so their is high risk of attack if one who vaccinated during periods so pls avoid. Share to all girls in ur list. "
BOOM received this message on its WhatsApp helpline requesting verification.
Images bearing this message are viral on Facebook.
BOOM contacted Dr. Rishma Pai, consultant gynecologist at Jaslok Hospital to understand whether there is any truth in the statement that taking the vaccine on their periods would be detrimental for a woman.
"Unfortunately, menstruation has not been considered as a factor while pregnancy and lactating women were considered as factors in the COVID-19 clinical trial factors. But, given how menstruation is a much natural process, at any given point of time the number of women who will be bleeding is going to be very high all thanks to the six-day cycle," Dr. Pai said. She adds that the lack of scientific evidence to show that vaccine efficacy decreases when a woman is on her period, is enough reason to call the message a rumour.
BOOM also asked experts whether the claim that the vaccine will decrease immunity when women are already lethargic during periods, is possible and they said the same has no scientific backing.
Dr. Nandita Palshetkar, gynecologist and IVF specialist at Lilavati Hospital agreed with Dr. Pai. "There is no relation between the two. If any of my patients will ask, I will tell them that the vaccine is beneficial and they should get vaccinated. Even if they are on their period. Immunity during periods is not linked to the COVID-19 vaccine."
The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention in the United States nor the Indian Council of Medical Research has listed that a woman should not take the vaccine pre, during, or post the period.
In the weekly COVID-19 press conference held on Monday, Dr. V K Paul, member, Health, NITI Aayog, as well as head of the National Expert Group on Vaccination clarified that all women should get vaccinated even when they are menstruating. "Vaccination helps. please ask women to go ahead and get vaccinated if their appointment is on a day that they are menstruating."
BOOM also spoke to Praneeta Katdare, a psychologist as well as a frontline worker who was diagnosed with COVID-19 in June, 2020 but is fully vaccinated as of today. She took both her vaccine doses on the fifth day of her period in January and March, 2020.
"While I was detected with COVID-19, I did face a few menstrual issues as my test came positive when I was menstruating. However, I even took my vaccine jabs a day after my bleeding stopped and did not face any issues. Except feeling feverish, there was nothing adverse that I faced," Katdare stated.
Menstruation And Vaccine Trials
While there is no harm in taking the vaccine when a woman is menstruating according to experts, there have been reports about women experiencing changes in their menstrual cycles internationally. These reports raise pertinent questions about whether menstrual cycles are even considered in clinical trials just like fevers. An article in New York Times by a PhD candidate and a writer at Yale school of Medicine highlights that there is no established direct link between vaccination and menstrual health. While menstruation is affected by many factors including stress, the authors remarked that it was necessary to start including effects on menstruation as research questions in clinical trials.
BOOM also spoke to Dr. N. Kumarasamy, Director, VHS-Infectious Diseases Medical Centre, who has worked on different vaccine trials who held the same view that the countries administering vaccines or the manufactures themselves have not highlighted a harmful effect. 'For its effect post vaccination, however, we have to wait to understand experiences once vaccination for the menstruating ages begins from May 1."
BOOM has also written to the vaccine manufacturers to ask if effects on menstruation were included in the trial protocol. The story will be updated upon a response.
Reports on Effects On Vaccine
Dr. Kate Clancy, an associate professor at University of Illinois observed that post vaccination her first period was heavier than usual. Clancy said that a week and half after getting the first dose of the Moderna vaccine, she started her periods and experienced heavy bleeding.
Clancy's friend shared her experience on her post which prompted her to crowdsource a list asking women whether they noticed any changes. Clancy received many responses from women sharing their experiences of any changes in their periods, the cycles post vaccination.
A few responses included women who had reached their menopause but witnessed spotting after receiving the vaccine.
BOOM reached out to a San Francisco resident who on the condition of anonymity described that she noticed a change in her periods post the vaccine. "I am a 31-year-old woman and got my dose of the Pfizer vaccine three weeks ago. My periods have always been regular and this month there has been a two week delay, and I still have started my periods. This is really abnormal for me. The delay stressed me enough to get a pregnancy test and I'm definitely not pregnant. So its just a waiting game at this point."
A health worker from India who chose to stay anonymous told BOOM that she has not stopped bleeding since she took the first shot. "I visited three different gynecologists who are not attributing this to the vaccine but have not been able to pinpoint why this is happening. My sonography reveals minor PCOS, thyroid is negative, but my clotting factor is very high." BOOM accessed and verified the medical reports of the health worker.
"I am not going to discourage anybody else from taking the vaccine but will ask them to first ask their doctors if they can take the vaccine if they have any underlying conditions. It has been difficult to continue working with the cramps and the bleeding. I am really hoping somebody can find why I have not stopped bleeding for close to four months," the health worker concluded.
BOOM also spoke to Dr. M. Sivakami, Professor, School of Health System Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences who extensively works in the area of gender and health about women's experiences. "As the demography in India that received vaccines do not largely fit the menstruating range, we do not have enough data to attribute any changes to the vaccine. However, I will not discount women's experiences and call them anecdotal. We should document these experiences and ask more people to raise their voices if they witness any changes."
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