whether the COVID-19 vaccine can affect fertility

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whether the COVID-19 vaccine can affect fertility

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Do COVID Vaccines Affect the Menstrual Cycle?

January 14, 2022


Kat J. McAlpine Doug Most Dana Ferrante Andrew Hallock

Question of the Week

Do COVID Vaccines Affect the Menstrual Cycle?

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January 13, 2022 BU Today

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One of the most-read articles we published in 2021 was about a Boston University professor who was leading one of five teams awarded $1.67 million in research funding from the National Institutes of Health to study whether COVID-19 vaccines impact menstruation. The story moved readers, and to date it has almost 500,000 page views, and 400 passionate comments from people sharing their personal experiences after being vaccinated.

Lauren Wise, a School of Public Health professor of epidemiology, is looking for evidence of COVID vaccines affecting periods through PRESTO (Pregnancy Study Online), an NIH-funded online study she runs. It follows women trying to conceive from preconception through six months after birth, and it’s been collecting data since 2013 on a range of aspects related to female health and fertility. 

We reconnected with Lauren in December her for an update on her research. Since we spoke, another research team funded by the NIH published a paper in early January indicating that COVID vaccines were associated with a small, temporary increase in menstrual cycle length (one day on average).

Our conversation was recorded, so you can read along with the transcript, and hear personally from Wise about her work.

Both the recorded conversation and this transcript have been condensed and edited for clarity.

BU Today: How did researchers come to this idea of studying whether the COVID vaccines may be affecting menstruation?

Lauren Wise: I just want to say how surprised I was to see so many comments on The Brink about this topic. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised ,but it’s pretty clear that menstruation is a really important health outcome for women and it’s great to see so many women talking about this. This is typically more of a taboo subject, but so many women have come out and expressed their experience about menstruation following vaccination and I’m glad that their voices are being heard. There have been a lot of anecdotal reports, on various social media outlets, where women have said after vaccination they’ve experienced changes in their menstruation, such as heavier menses, earlier onset of menses, or more painful periods. But in the clinical trials that came out looking at the effects of vaccination, they really just looked at life or death type outcomes and not reproductive outcomes like menstruation or fertility or even pregnancy outcomes. So, this is a very understudied area of investigation and I’m really happy that the National Institutes of Health has decided to fund these additional studies, looking at the extent to which COVID vaccination has an impact on menstruation.

To study the effects of the COVID vaccine on women’s menstrual cycle, which data have you been tracking?

I guess scientifically, thinking about why this could be happening, I mean, I think any agent that triggers an immune response could plausibly influence cellular processes in the uterus and ovaries that could have an impact on menstruation. Whether the effect might be short term or long term, or whether the effect is evident when we compare women who didn’t have any changes in their menses, we need to make sure that we study them, as well. And in addition to asking them about their lifestyle, their behaviors, their diet, a range of different exposures, we also ask them about their menstruation. And we also invite them to use a menstrual charting app, where they can track lots of information about their menstrual characteristics. And so, and in addition to that, we were able to add new questions on COVID vaccination and also COVID infection. And also stressors related to the COVID pandemic, which could plausibly confound these associations. And so we’ll be able to look at the COVID vaccination and changes in menstruation during six cycles of follow up, using multiple sources of data. 

So, we have self-reported questionnaire data, and then we have the menstrual charting data. And some of the outcomes that we’re actually interested in that have also come up in some of the anecdotal reports are changes in cycle regularity, cycle length, intensity of menstrual flow, women have reported heavier periods. Length or duration of the menstrual flow like longer periods. 

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