Amid rising reports of vaccine-related menstrual disruptions, the CDC and FDA are dismissing women’s concerns and denying them information while corporate media pathologizes them in sexist fashion.
This August 11, the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) overhauled its COVID-19 vaccine guidance for pregnant women, now “urging” them to accept their shots.
Just 23% of pregnant women in the US have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Only something like 11.1% have been fully vaccinated.
The CDC is seeking to drive these numbers up, but it is not doing the one thing that would, perhaps more than anything else, assuage the “hesitations” of these so-called “anti-vaxxers”: investigate and explain widespread reports of menstrual disruption post-Covid 19 vaccine – and, if necessary, add a warning about it.
I have five female friends who, after receiving Covid-19 vaccines, experienced disruption to their menstrual cycles. Their symptoms have included hemorrhagic bleeding lasting more than a month; heavy intermittent bleeding for four months; passing golf-ball size clots of blood; and extreme cramping, serious enough to land one friend in the ER.
Most of these women are in their 20s and 30s, and at least one of them thinks she might want to have children. She now worries that her symptoms might be the harbinger of long-term fertility problems. At least two of my friends have symptoms that have not resolved. All are feminists and have throughout the years been consistent Democratic Party voters.
Other women of childbearing age have reported becoming temporarily “postmenopausal” after their second mRNA shot; conversely, women in menopause are reporting suddenly beginning to bleed again; trans men on hormone therapy have also reported sudden bleeding. Apparently, the number of vaccinated women around the world reporting alarmingly disrupted menstruation is, to be conservative, in the tens of thousands.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, does not warn women who get the shots that they may experience a disrupted menstrual cycle.
Why is this? In part because even though menstruation is sometimes called the sixth vital sign and directly implicates fertility, and the fact that women on average suffer higher rates of adverse reaction to vaccines of all sorts and medication in general, the effects of Covid vaccines on women’s health specifically, including the menstrual cycle, were not studied as part of the Emergency Use Authorization process.
Impacts on menstrual cycles are, it turns out, very rarely studied in clinical vaccine trials. Stated another way, the quality of COVID-19 vaccine safety data is better for men than it is for women, yet across the country, vaccine mandates make no sex-distinction and in practicality, actually fall more heavily on majority-women industries. In this way, it could be argued, women are not being treated equally under U.S. law.
And now, despite widespread reports of post-vaccine menstrual disruption, it does not appear the CDC or FDA are taking the issue seriously. I contacted the FDA press office with specific and detailed questions about widespread reports of menstrual dysregulation after Covid vaccination. After some back and forth, an FDA spokesperson responded with an official statement: boilerplate jibber-jabber that did not even speak to the issue of menstruation, much less state that all such reports had been investigated and dismissed.
One of my friends says, “I probably would have still gotten the vaccine, but I wish there had been research, a warning, something. My symptoms have been unpleasant and disconcerting, and it doesn’t seem like public health officials care. I think the way this is being handled will haunt me forever.”
Another, who is trying hard to not “freak out,” says “I wish I would have known about these side effects prior to receiving the vaccine. I would have been more cautious about receiving it. I hope the FDA takes these reports seriously and warns others about these side effects – after all, safety and regulation is their main responsibility.”
The fact that there is no warning, nor any urgent research into whether there should be a warning, seems jarringly sexist when you consider that the FDA has established and does warn that the mRNA Covid vaccines may cause rather trivial short-term side effects including the following: rashes, itching, hives, injection site pain, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, fever, nausea, swollen lymph nodes, diarrhea, vomiting; plus the recently added and potentially lethal conditions myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the lining outside the heart), which primarily affect young men.
In other words, the FDA sees fit to warn that you might get itchy after the shot but has not deemed it important to determine, and if necessary, tell women – women who might be trying to conceive – that getting the shot could, at least in the short term, scramble their cycle.
Spare a thought for the tens of thousands of women undergoing expensive, invasive fertility treatments like egg retrieval and in vitro fertilization. According to Pew Research, about one third of all American women will undergo fertility treatment at some point. Most health insurance plans do not cover these difficult procedures, so many women pay out-of-pocket, sometimes dropping tens of thousands of dollars. Surely such female medical consumers have a right to know if an mRNA vaccine can trigger, for example, spontaneous prolonged bleeding that disrupts their reproductive efforts.
Covid-19 is a real and potentially lethal virus. I do not need to be convinced of this. And I understand that any healthy society has the right to protect itself, and relatedly, to regulate its members. I have empathy for public officials charged with weighing competing interests and having to make difficult calls in navigating this crisis. Even more, I empathize with American families doing their very best to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their communities, often in the face of profound and disorienting loss.
But it is also true that members of any healthy society have the right to demand that such regulations be based on trustworthy evidence and moral reason; and where such regulations implicate fundamental liberties, to demand that they are no more invasive than absolutely necessary.
The severity of COVID-19 does not negate women’s need for a rigorous and trustworthy scientific appraisal of the benefits and risks they face if they accept a COVID-19 vaccine.
Women deserve an immediate and thorough investigation into reports of post-vaccine menstrual dysregulation, clear and honest explanations of the findings, medical guidance for restoring menstrual health, restitution where necessary, a redoubled commitment to the principle of informed consent moving forward, and (like everyone else) access to reasonable, clearly-communicated, non-punitive accommodations if they decline a COVID-19 vaccine at this time.
Instead, women concerned about the health effects of Covid-19 vaccines have been subjected to 1950’s-style dismissals and demonization in blatantly sexist terms that stand at odds with #MeToo era calls to “believe women.”
They now face the prospect of being barred from their educational institutions, prohibited from entering public accommodations, and losing their jobs unless they “choose” a medical therapy that has not even been fully approved by the Food & Drug Administration, which has left more than an insignificant number of their friends and loved ones struggling, alone, with surprise menstrual side effects, against which pharmaceutical industries enjoy a complete, multi-layered liability shield.
From a purely bioethical standpoint, this situation should be enough to give us pause, from those concerned with women’s health; to those concerned about fundamental civil liberties like the right to privacy, equal protection, free association, and free speech; to those concerned about fighting “vaccine hesitancy”; to those concerned about the continued (yet threatened) legitimacy of foundational U.S. institutions. But it seems many in our political class only care about or understand the DC horse race. So let us put it in those terms: this issue will show up in 2022.
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