In research that will add important data to the experience of vaccines on women’s health, Laura Payne, PhD, director of McLean Hospital’s Clinical and Translational Pain Research Laboratory, has received a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to explore potential links between SARS-CoV-2 vaccination and menstrual cycle changes.
The one-year grant is part of $1.67 million in supplemental grants offered to five institutions to investigate the topic. The supplemental grants are funded by NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health.
There is currently no known link between the vaccines and menstrual cycle changes. After COVID-19 vaccination, some women have reported menstrual changes that include variations in blood flow or cycle length. Such reports of menstrual cycle changes are low and currently anecdotal.
The menstrual cycle involves a complex interplay among hormones and reproductive organs. Many factors can potentially lead to temporary menstrual cycle changes, including stress, changes in contraceptive use, and infection with SARS-coV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). An immune response to a COVID-19 vaccine could also potentially affect the interaction between immune cells and the uterus to cause temporary changes in the menstrual cycle.
Clinical trials for Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson SARS-CoV-2 vaccines tracked participants’ last menstrual period, but the trials did not examine menstrual cycles extensively. The rigorous scientific studies funded by the NIH can provide more information on whether vaccines affect menstrual cycles, the mechanisms behind any potential changes, and how long such changes, if any, may last. The data from the rigorous studies will provide information that could reduce vaccine hesitancy among people who menstruate.
According to Payne, the menstrual cycle is an indicator of health that has not been historically recognized as an important component in the experience of women.
“In many areas of health research, we don’t often study the menstrual cycle. We don’t acknowledge the potential role that hormonal changes reproductive-age women go through could have on outcomes,” she said.
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