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There has been a lot of misinformation about the COVID vaccine – like “can I take the COVID vaccine during periods?” Here are some answers.
Battling the Coronavirus pandemic’s second wave in India is proving to be an increasingly difficult and backbreaking task. The failure of the state to take precautions for the second wave meant an unabated increase in the number of individuals infected, shortage of oxygen cylinders, life-saving drugs, hospital beds, and as a consequence, people all over the nation are losing their lives to the deadly virus.
The Govt of India has rolled out the vaccine programme for all who are 18+ and the people coming forward for it. This has become a critical step for protecting the people and controlling the spread of COVID.
Which is not to say there can be no side-effects of the COVID jabs on people who menstruate.
Side-effects are a part and parcel of a lot of modern medicines. Fever is commonly attributed as a side effect of vaccinations. So some personal anecdotes on increased and/or heavier flow in the cycle following vaccination does not come as a surprise to medical experts. But they insist these are just temporary changes in the body as it accommodates with the activation of the immune system against the virus.
Reports suggest that there is no data linking these side effects to taking the COVID vaccine during periods. Nor are there any reported long term effects on menstruation or fertility.
At a time like this, the internet is overflowing with some valid concerns, but also a lot of misinformation and fake news which needs to be identified and quashed. A segment of these concern the COVID shots for women.
Unverified forwards and discussion about the long term impact of the vaccine on menstruation, is leading to fear and can reinforce harmful stereotypes and superstitions.
The government has stepped forward and clarified that the viral posts are just rumours and urged people to get vaccinated. The tweet from PIB read, “#Fake post circulating on social media claims that women should not take #COVID19vaccine 5 days before or after their menstrual cycle. Don’t fall for rumours! All people above 18 should get vaccinated after May 1. Registration starts on April 28th on cowin.gov.in”
Medical experts and doctors also took to social media to thwart the spread of misinformation and clarified that there is no scientific data that can account for the rumours. A gynaecologist from Mumbai, Dr. Munjaal V. Kapadia, has put out a tweet to assure people that the WhatsApp forwards are not true. He said, “A lot of patients messaging me asking if it’s safe/effective to take the vaccine during their period. Some silly WhatsApp rumour has spooked everyone. Your period has no effect on the vaccine efficacy. Take it as soon as you can. Spread the word please.” In a subsequent tweet he also said, “These rumours are engineered to prevent women from having early vaccine access and to foster vaccine hesitancy. Don’t fall for it. TAKE THE VACCINE.”
Some time after the vaccination drive began in the US, there were some anecdotal experiences of greater and heavier flow during periods, dizziness, and fatigue post-vaccination. This led to some interest in how the vaccine behaves in those who menstruate.
Dr. Kate Clancy, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois, shared her experience on twitter and received hundreds of responses. This led to discussions that led to a conversation on the issue, aimed at initiating a study for greater understanding of how the female body reacts to the vaccine, and not discouraging the use of it. The study points to this being a temporary change, that has been recorded in some cases of menstruation, and has led to these explanations.
Some medical experts suggest that a possible reason behind increased flow within a few days of the vaccine is due to its effect on the lining of the uterus or endometrium.
The endometrium is a part of the immune system and is involved in maintaining its microbiome of multiple cells part of the body’s immune system. (Here’s a simple explanation of what a ‘microbiome’ is.) These may be involved in the immunity creating process that the vaccine begins, and this may be one reason behind the increase in bleeding. The process is complex, and certainly not a linear cause and effect scenario.
In another possibility, the changes are attributed to stress. From the very beginning, the pandemic has adversely affected our menstrual cycles.
A study published in January recorded the percentage of people with changes in their menstrual cycle in the coronavirus pandemic. Of the 177 patients studied, 28% reported changes in their cycles and 25% in the volume of their flow. Some of these study subjects had also recorded their experience taking the COVID vaccine during periods, and these do not point to any direct co-relation of the vaccine with their periods or cycles.
Whether these changes can be attributed to the vaccines or not is a pertinent question that health care specialists have to answer.
Women and people who menstruate deserve explanations and guidelines on how to deal with these changes and how to prepare their bodies for the same. But this situation cannot be allowed to be exploited by miscreants who spread misinformation and unsubstantiated claims, fueling the panic that the global pandemic has already induced in the people.
Some of the misinformations going around, range from claiming that vaccines are causing infertility, to one should not get vaccinated during periods, to how vaccines ‘shed’ from one person to another causing reproductive problems.
All of which need to be taken with a large barrel-full of salt.
Ours is a deeply patriarchal society which gives undue importance to women’s fertility making it the sole point of identity for women. As a result, even rumours around the vaccination causing infertility, can cause serious damage to the importance of health care in a crisis like this, even though no data suggests that COVID vaccination affects fertility.
Thus, these unfounded and baseless rumours will come in the way of women from taking the vaccine, putting their health into jeopardy.
Women’s well-being is already relegated to a secondary position with respect to that of men’s in society, and these conversations cement the negative notions in the minds of patriarchal sections. In addition, society already stigmatises conversations around menstruation. Now with these rumours, draconian sections of the society would find new ‘medical language’ to further stigmatise periods and menstrual health.
The vaccines available to us today are homegrown Covishield from Serum Institute and Covaxin developed jointly by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech and ICMR. While no data exists on the side-effects in menstruation, some reports suggest ‘lesser side-effects’ in Covaxin making it more favoured among the population.
The Pfizer vaccine is also expected to be launched through government channels and at not-for-profit rates, and Sputnik V from Russia would be available from the end of May. This gives us a wide array of vaccines to choose from.
As the government makes vaccines available for the youth from 1st May, we’d like to say that there is no scientific basis for worry about taking the COVID vaccine during periods, or before, or after it – and these situations absolutely do not make any difference to the efficacy of the vaccine nor do they affect fertility. We should not let fear mongers stop us from accessing essential health care.
Therefore be on you guard and keep the side effects in perspective, and the spread of misinformation needs to be stopped. Here is also a good illustration of how to have a conversation with those who might have got misinformation and are hesitant.
Yes, you can take the COVID vaccine during periods, and no, it has no adverse effects on your fertility. The virus has fatal consequences, vaccines can at most have side effects by and large.
Image source: YouTube
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An undergraduate student of Political Science at Presidency University, Kolkata. Describes herself as an intersectional
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