Examining the Possible Link Between COVID-19 Vaccines and Menstrual Changes

July 30, 2022

One of the persistent questions surrounding the reluctance of some women to get COVID-19 vaccinations is the potential impact on their reproductive health. A McLean Hospital researcher and some colleagues are working hard to provide some answers.

“Women and parents of girls are very concerned about how the vaccine could affect their reproductive health,” said Laura Payne, PhD, director of McLean’s Clinical and Translational Pain Research Laboratory.

“The initial vaccine clinical trials were focused primarily on life-or-death measures. We want to take the next step, to be able to inform the public if there are other changes to expect.”

Payne’s work focuses on identifying neurobiological, behavioral, and psychological biomarkers related to pain, particularly menstrual pain in adolescents. Specifically, she is interested in identifying factors associated with the transition from recurrent to chronic pain in girls and young women.

Supported by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), her lab has focused on adolescent girls with varying levels of menstrual pain—following them over two years and looking at their pain responses and their self-reported menstrual cycle characteristics.

When the potential menstrual cycle changes related to the vaccine were first reported, NICHD recognized the lack of research in the area and committed $1.67 million to this effort.

Payne and four other researchers were each awarded a one-year, supplemental grant to investigate potential links between SARS-CoV-2 vaccinations and menstrual cycle changes.

Woman receives vaccine

Her prospective study will follow girls 13-19 receiving boosters after two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccine. It will track their hormones, inflammatory response, and antibody development very closely over a four-week period following the vaccine, using saliva samples collected 24 hours before vaccination and 24 hours, 48 hours, 14 days, and 28 days after vaccination.

Specifically, Payne’s team will look at ovarian hormones and some pro-inflammatory cytokines, proteins that trigger an immune response.

They will also track self-reported menstrual cycles for up to a year, looking for potential spotting between periods, changes in menstrual cycle flow, and menstrual pain.

“A huge cytokine response could affect some of these hormones that affect the menstrual cycle,” she said.

“But we just don’t know yet. The mRNA vaccines do create a large kind of immune response in a different way than other types of vaccines, like the flu vaccine, where it’s not as huge of an inflammatory response.”

Payne said there have been virtually no studies on the impact of any vaccines, let alone the new COVID-19 jabs, on reproductive health.

“We’re playing catch-up for decades of research that hasn’t been done,” she said.

“We have to start with just the big picture, and hopefully in the coming months we’ll be able to get some more detailed answers. I know that for many women, nothing has happened to their cycles. But many other women did see changes, and so we want to really look at that more closely and see if we can figure out why, and for whom.”

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