By now, many of us know that getting the COVID vaccine ASAP is vital to preventing a fourth wave from sweeping the U.S. As of May 5th, 41% of the U.S. over 18 is fully vaccinated and over half of U.S. adults have received at least one shot. However, there have been concerns about the safety of the vaccines — especially if you were assigned female at birth.
Ever since the Johnson & Johnson vaccine got pulled due to seven women developing cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) — an extremely rare blood clot in the brain — there have been concerns about whether the COVID vaccines affect women differently than men. In fact, vaccination rates have decreased from the high of 3.38 million a day because of this news though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has since lifted the recommended pause in the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine as of April 23.
This, of course, raises some concerning questions like, is the vaccine safe to get if you’re trying to get pregnant? Does it affect menstrual cycles? Do you need to adjust the timing of certain procedures?
Why are people worried about the COVID vaccine affecting fertility?
Like all things vaccine related, rumors have abounded, claiming all sorts of nonsense. One of the more pernicious fabrications began when two European anti-vaxxers alleged without evidence that the COVID vaccines would make women infertile. Fun fact: that is emphatically false and untrue. (I have to say it both ways in case it is in any way unclear.)
What do we know about the COVID vaccine?
Alright, so the COVID vaccines do not make women infertile — but that doesn’t mean it can’t affect fertility or folks who are trying to get pregnant. Here is what we do know.
Women seem to have more side effects after the vaccine than men
Unfortunately, there does seem to be more side effects reported by women according to a study published in February by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They found that 79% of the side effects of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were reported to the CDC were from women even though women only represented 61% of the vaccine recipients.
It’s unknown whether women are just more likely to report side effects than men are, or if women are experiencing more side effects. However, if women do have more side effects, it also tracks with biology. Women and girls can produce up to double the amount of antibodies after receiving other vaccines like for influenza, measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), and the hepatitis A and B vaccines.
It is unclear if blood clots affect women more than men
All we know is that seven women and one man developed the very rare blood clotting disorder CVST approximately two weeks after vaccination in the U.S. The women were between 18 to 48 years old and it is not certain if the clotting was due to the COVID vaccine or because women are more likely to be affected by the vaccine.
At first, it seemed as if women in Europe were at greater risk for blood clots after getting the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine — which has not been approved for use in the U.S. However, the results were skewed because more women than men were getting the vaccine in some countries. British regulators say there is not enough evidence to determine if women are more likely to develop these rare blood clots.
The COVID vaccine can affect mammogram results
Because the vaccine can cause enlarged lymph nodes in your armpit, they can show up as a sign of breast cancer on your mammogram since swollen lymph nodes are a sign of breast cancer. This swelling is a normal reaction to the vaccine and usually happens on the same side as the arm where you get the shot. The swelling goes down after a few weeks — so you should either schedule your mammogram before your first shot or a month after your last shot.
However, if you’re getting a diagnostic mammogram because of a suspicious lump or some other sign of breast cancer, or you are currently being treated for breast cancer and are going in for a routine exam, don’t put off the mammogram. Make sure you inform your medical professionals about receiving the vaccine. Alternatively, you can ask them to give you the vaccine in your leg so that it doesn’t affect the results.
Coordinate your vaccine appointment with your fertility specialists
If you are undergoing fertility treatments and scheduled for any procedures, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) advises avoiding the COVID vaccine within three days before or after any procedures. That’s because it would be difficult for your doctors to know if any vaccine side effects like fever or chills are a result of the vaccine or an infection resulting from your egg retrieval, intrauterine insemination (IUI), or embryo transfer.
Plus, if you are experiencing vaccine side effects that also resemble COVID symptoms, your fertility center may not allow you into their facility — even if it’s probably from the vaccine and not because you have COVID. Keep your fertility specialist updated on any vaccine appointments so that they can plan accordingly.
Don’t worry if you have a vaccine shot scheduled during the two-week waiting period between ovulation and your expected period when the embryo would implant in your uterus if you are pregnant. ““Fever should not interfere with implantation,” reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Sigal Klipstein told the “New York Times.”
However, try not to take painkillers ahead of time because that may dampen your body’s natural immune response to the vaccine. You can take it after though — although if you are pregnant or potentially pregnant, avoid ibuprofen.
Your menstrual cycle shouldn’t be affected
Many women have anecdotally reported that the COVID vaccine affected their menstrual cycle whether in their flow, PMS symptoms, or timing — mine was four days early and I’m usually like clockwork — but doctors say that the vaccine shouldn’t affect your cycle.
“It’s unlikely that the Covid vaccine would affect menstrual cycles, and there’s no plausible biological mechanism by which this would occur,” Dr. Sigal continued. “However, there is little data on this topic,” admitted the member of the ASRM COVID-19 Task Force.
Alice Lu-Culligan and Dr Randi Hutter Epstein at Yale School of Medicine wrote in the New York Times that there is no data linking the COVID vaccines to menstrual cycle changes. “Even if there is a connection, one unusual period is no cause for alarm.”
Yes, you should still get your vaccine
Given all this, should you still get your COVID vaccine? Yes. Yes, you should.
According to scientists, COVID causes more complications in pregnant women than previously thought. Not only will you be at higher risk for high blood pressure during the pregnancy, you are at greater risk for serious infection, being 5 times more likely to be admitted to the ICU. Also, your newborn will be at risk for greater complications at birth, too.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, please get your vaccine. Don’t put yourself, your possible future pregnancy and baby in jeopardy. Plus, the closer we can get to full vaccination rates, the more our vulnerable populations like the immunocompromised are protected.
Please, do your part — if not for yourself, than for everyone else.
Information about COVID-19 is rapidly changing, and Scary Mommy is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. With news being updated so frequently, some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For this reason, we are encouraging readers to use online resources from local public health departments, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization to remain as informed as possible.