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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A growing number of anecdotes about COVID-19 vaccines affecting a person's menstrual cycle is spurring attention and research funding.

Why it matters: Efforts to halt the pandemic are being stymied by continued vaccine hesitancy, in part due to disinformation about side effects. A CDC scientist tells Axios "there is absolutely no evidence" that the altered periods reported by some are causing infertility, a common refrain among anti-vaxxers.

  • "Women of childbearing age should absolutely be vaccinated," says CDC medical officer Christine Olson, who is head of the v-safe pregnancy registry.

Threat level: Pregnant people who have a symptomatic COVID infection "have a twofold risk of admission into intensive care and a 70% increased risk of maternal death," particularly with the highly transmissible Delta variant, Olson says.

What's happening: There are "thousands and thousands and thousands" who are reporting an impact from the COVID vaccine, particularly on menstruation, says Namandjé N. Bumpus, director of the department of pharmacology and molecular sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

  • However, Bumpus adds, "it remains to be seen if there's a causal link or not."
  • Olson points out that the CDC "is aware of reports of menstrual irregularities" and continues studying the issue. NIH is funding five one-year supplementary grants worth $1.67 million to further investigate if there's a link and what the underlying mechanisms may be.
  • One of the theories is that the change in a person's period could be caused by a temporary immune response to the vaccine, as the endometrium lining the uterus contains multiple immune cells, says Alice Lu-Culligan, an M.D.-Ph.D. student at Yale School of Medicine who is researching the topic and wrote an opinion piece in April.

Changes in menstrual cycles can be caused by many factors like stress or new medications, can happen frequently, and often are temporary without an impact on fertility, says Viki Male, a lecturer in reproductive immunology at Imperial College London.

  • The problem, she says, is the combination of the infertility misinformation with people saying, "Oh, I noticed it changed my period." This has led to hesitation and questions like: "You say they don't cause infertility but if they don't cause infertility, then why has my friend's period come five days late?"
  • "But people find [menstruation] goes back to normal very quickly," Male says.
  • "Alteration of someone's period does not mean they were infertile that month," Lu-Culligan adds.

Background: Misinformation about the vaccine's effect on fertility was first promulgated in the U.K. in December by Michael Yeadon, a former Pfizer vice president, Male says. Since then, many different scientists have looked closely at the allegation, she says, and found no evidence to support that claim.

  • "The concern about infertility is hypothetical. There is no current evidence to support this, and there are most certainly pregnancies occurring every day following COVID-19 vaccination," Olson says.

Between the lines: Multiple sources say the decision in the early clinical vaccine trials to exclude pregnant people fueled hesitancy.

  • "It was a dreadful mistake to not include people who are pregnant in clinical trials" for COVID-19 vaccines at first, Male says. "We should have known that we were going to need to vaccinate people who are pregnant, but we ended up without trial data from them. I think that's something we should also learn from in the future."
  • "A lot of that early opportunity was lost" by not including pregnant people in the vaccine randomized control trials with a blinded placebo cohort, Lu-Culligan says. "There are trials going on right now, but we have to wait for those and wait for the numbers to accumulate."

The bottom line: Vaccination is essential "for anyone wanting to make sure their pregnancy is the healthiest it can be and results in a healthy infant," Olson says.

Go deeper

Oct 13, 2021 - Health

U.S. sees record high of 96,000 drug overdose deaths in 12 month period

Tramadol pills, an opioid. Photo: Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded over 96,000 deaths from drug overdoses in a twelve-month period ending in March 2021, according to provisional data released Wednesday.

Why it matters: It's a nearly 30% jump over the preceding 12 months and coincides with one of the deadliest periods of the COVID-19 pandemic, when stay-at-home orders radically changed daily life for most Americans.

6 mins ago - Technology

Race and technology in America

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The technology industry is famously determined to change the world — but its efforts to diversify its workforce and remove bias from its products haven't changed nearly enough.

Biden: "Being a cop today is one hell of a lot harder than it's ever been"

President Biden speaks during the 40th Annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service at the U.S Capitolon Oct. 16. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden speaking at the U.S. Capitol on Saturday honored members of law enforcement who died in the line of duty in 2019 and 2021 and saluted those who are currently serving.

Driving the news: "We expect everything of you, and it's beyond the capacity of anyone to meet the total expectations. Being a cop today is one hell of a lot harder than it's ever been," Biden said.