By Eryn Slankster-Schmierer, PhD on September 9, 2021
A report came out on September 7th, 2021 covered by The Seattle Times citing the NIH has allotted $1.6 million to five different institutions to study whether the coronavirus vaccine impacts menstruation. I would like to use this opportunity to give a skeptic scientist’s perspective on what this means, the potential consequences, and how this relates to modern consumerism and corporate and governmental trust.
What does this mean?
First of all, it does not mean the vaccine definitively affects women’s reproductive systems. It does mean that someone has made an observation that validates testing a hypothesis. That’s it.
Understanding the limitations of FDA approval
This is a really great example of limitations in science. I’m not trying to scare you away from getting the vaccine. In fact, this isn’t about just vaccines; this applies to literally every product ever manufactured for consumption in any way.
1) The FDA are people, and people can’t accurately predict the future.
Let’s be realistic: no product seeking FDA approval undergoes lengthy long-term studies before it hits the market. As products become household commodities, let’s say artificial sweeteners, we can compare people who use a product to people who don’t and compare health outcomes, such as the long-term effects of aspartame (Equal) causing hypertension, or saccharin (Sweet ‘n Low) causing bladder cancer (check out this NutritionFacts.org video).
Just like Frito-Lay WOW! Chips, simply because a product makes it to market does not mean it is free from side effects, like anal leakage. With any luck, those side effects are short lived and cease simultaneously with consumption.
And this is how drugs and devices and products end up getting pulled off the market, despite FDA approval. Since no one thought to ask for symptoms, or test a specific metabolic output or physiological response, or maybe disregarded short term “irrelevant” effects, it’s up to the consumers loyal patronization to test out long term effects.
2) How could researchers not know if the vaccine alters menstruation?
It’s a frustratingly easy answer, actually: no one thought to ask.
You wouldn’t test your hand-writing after trying on a new pair of shoes, and you wouldn’t check for hair loss after eating a new candy bar. The number of theoretical outcomes to any given input is literally infinite. You can’t test everything for everything; it’s just not feasible, nor possible.
Surely, the researchers will check the vitals: blood pressure, serum levels, weight, etc. The easy stuff. They’ll ask about pain or discomfort in the injection site, and maybe other subjective health questions. Of course, the participants mind will be on the project at hand: in this example, the vaccination. The subject is pretty unlikely to bring up that their partner broke up with them that week, and maybe they’ve been real upset. Or that they stubbed their toe and it turned a pretty horrific shade of purple. Why would they bring up seemingly unrelated symptoms?
As a science-minded person, I am always looking for patterns and explanations, but also like any menstruating individual, I know that menstruation changes occur due to all kinds of things in my body, including exercise, diet, stress, etc. I can personally say, even as a scientist, I likely wouldn’t have reported it as relevant to the researcher, because I wouldn’t have suspected a vaccine to cause menstruation changes. Especially if I wasn’t asked.
“The (FDA) emergency use authorization was really focused on critical safety issues” and “changes to your menstrual cycle is really not a life and death issue,” Diana Bianchi, director of the [NIH]’s Institute of Child Health and Human Development reports to The Seattle Times.
Basically, FDA approval prioritized preventing the less than 2% of covid-related deaths over the potentially life-long health and well-being of the entire child-bearing population, or more.
Implications of a misreported side effects.
I want to use this opportunity to show you why people may have hesitancy over products such as vaccines, drugs, and even manufactured food products, and how skepticism could be justified and approached with compassion, not shamed.
Let’s pretend researchers found that this vaccine was to cause menstruation changes. At minimum, this means reproductive cycles, and likely hormones, which have full body effects, have been adjusted.
It also means that the only people presenting known outward symptoms are people of child-bearing age. It could be that these are the only people affected, or it could mean that changes are occurring throughout the body in everyone, and the first presented symptoms are menstruation changes.
While I understand Bianchi’s statement that menstrual cycles are not life and death, menstrual cycle or hormonal changes could reasonably affect one’s ability to become pregnant or maintain a pregnancy, and that hypothetical risk trade-off may not be reasonable for some individuals.
Hormone changes can affect everything from reproduction to mood, cancer growth, or metabolic changes and everything in between. Perhaps non-menstruating women or men do not have the capacity to express quantifiable symptoms yet.
Quite possibly, this vaccine causes no menstruation changes. I stress that there is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence to confirm these claims. But just as cautiously, remember that $1.6 million dollars has been invested because there wasn’t enough hard evidence to deny it, either.
Why freedom of choice matters.
I’m not here to scare you about vaccines. My goal is to bring your attention to how much faith we as consumers put into manufactured products without questioning it. I’ll remind you that at one point in history, we thought cigarettes were beneficial to our health. How many of us regularly consumed artificial, manufactured sweeteners that we now have scientific evidence to show are damaging to our health? Instead of learning from that experience, we just switched to a newer, less tested refined sweetener to dump into our coffee.
Am I telling you the vaccine risks outweigh the benefit? Absolutely not, only you can answer that. I am suggesting you assess whether the benefits outweigh the consequences before putting any patented, manufactured, processed product into your body.
Just today (reported by CNN, NBC, CBS, NPR) Biden announced mandatory vaccinations for all federal employees and contracted workers, and any business of 100 employees or more must be required to vaccinate, test negative once a week, or suffer a $14,000 penalty per violation.
No one knows, nor can they say with certainty, that this vaccine, nor any other food or drug product, has no negative consequences, nor can you definitively say that its risks, known or unknown, are worth someone else taking. There are very real consequences for every choice you make. I am incredibly disappointed to see the current administration moving forward with this mandate.
It is not ethical to force others to consume based on your accepted level of risk.