Anyway here’s why this attitude is wrong (beyond being infantilising anti-science medical gaslighting that is likely to drive rather than curb vaccine hesitancy, I mean).
The menstrual cycle, despite admittedly being something women have, is not a silly women’s thing 🤪 that is “affected by the slightest breeze” (yes I know she’s talking hyperbolically here, but her underlying framing of women’s bodies as irrational is dangerous and, frankly, misogynistic). Despite its having been generally ignored by serious medical science (because lady things EW amirite) the menstrual cycle is, in fact, an extremely important health indicator for women. So much so in fact that this year the American College of Obstetrics and Pediatrics (ACOG) has advised doctors to consider it a “fifth vital sign
”. That is, as important a consideration for a women’s health as changes in body temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure.
Menstrual cycle changes or abnormalities can be a clear first symptom of a number of women’s health issues. “Regular cycles with the absence of excessive bleeding and/or pain are signs of wellness,” says [Dr. Geri Hewitt, a professor of obstetrics/gynecology at Ohio State University]. “Any aberration is an indication for more investigation.”
Problems that can be signposted by irregular periods include: eating disorders; thyroid malfunction; hormone issues, including those that cause Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS); sexually transmitted diseases; uterine lesions; and incorrect medication dosing. Very heavy periods, which are often dismissed, can indicate blood-clotting disorders. Excessive pain can suggest blockages, which can be hereditary.
In short, this matters. Irregularities in someone’s menstrual cycle is not something to be sneered at or dismissed. It is something to be taken seriously and investigated. It is good that it is now happening, although analysis of menstrual cycle interactions should have been part of the studies from the very beginning. Let’s hope the research community learns from this debacle.
More broadly, I would be very keen for this to mark an end to the infantilization of women by too many in the medical community. The attitude that says we mustn’t give credence to the many women noticing menstrual cycle irregularities in case it discourages other women from getting the jab is the same impulse that has medics telling me not to talk about painful IUD insertions or smears in case THAT puts women off getting THOSE procedures. In short, we can’t give women accurate information, or set realistic expectations, in case it leads silly women to make the wrong decision. Apparently, when it comes to women, the principle of informed consent does not apply.
This is not only unethical, it’s entirely counter-productive. IUDs and smears are not one-off procedures. This means you might be able to con women once by pretending that no woman ever feels anything other than “discomfort,” but what about when she’s due for her next appointment and she no longer trusts you? And in this case, what about when we want women to get a booster jab? Patronising women and telling them to shut up about their bodies is short-termism at its worst. Just do the research, give us the information, and give us access to pain relief where appropriate.
Oh, and to be super extra clear for the people at the back, I am NOT saying women shouldn’t get vaccinated (nor that they shouldn’t go for a smear or get an IUD). I’m simply saying we should, from the start, have been able to tell women the following:
- if the vaccine may cause menstrual cycle irregularities
- how long those irregularities might last
- and for the jackpot, why those irregularities might happen, because ultimately isn’t that going to be the best way to encourage worried women to get their next jab?
I’m giving the final word on this to my wonderful and about a million times smarter than me friend Tracy who sets it out beautifully: