Social media influencers are spreading crazy rumors about COVID-19 vaccines and rules – Mother Jones
A few weeks ago, Dr Jen Gunter started hearing from people on Twitter who had experienced something strange after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine: their periods were unusual. Some reported having their period early, right after receiving the vaccine. Others had unusually heavy bleeding. At first, Gunter, a gynecologist and virtuous killer of health misinformation (and the subject of a profile by my colleague Maddie Oatman) suspected the symptoms were the result of a pandemic strain rather than the bite itself. – stress is a known cause of irregularity in the menstrual cycle. But as the reports came in, Gunter began to wonder if there was anything else going on. “It’s happened enough that I think I should look into it,” she said.
A few media outlets wrote about vaccines and menstruation – in February it was in the news in Israel, where vaccine deployment is more advanced. In the United States, there has been a surge of coverage in recent weeks, first in small outlets like The lily and a few days ago in the New York Times. A few weeks ago, Dr. Kathryn Clancy, professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois, tweeted about her own menstrual irregularity after vaccination. She heard from so many people with similar experiences that she and a colleague decided to lead a investigation collect data on changes in the post-vaccination cycle. It has received more than 19,000 responses since its launch in early April.
Gunter decided to dig. She contacted the companies that developed the vaccine to see if they had trial data on menstrual irregularity – but no one responded. In one Publish on her sub-stack, she presented several possible scenarios that could explain the cycle changes after firing. I won’t go into detail here – Gunter’s article is excellent and presents the science in easy-to-understand language. But a fundamental point she makes is that the endometrium – the lining of the uterus – is part of the immune system. Among other functions, it protects newly implanted embryos from pathogens. “It’s not inconceivable that there could be a connection,” she told me, between plans and cycle changes.
As long as there is no formal study, Gunter points out, no one will be able to do anything more than speculate. It could take a while: Although the trials tracked other mild side effects, like fever, they did not include data on menstrual changes. “People assume that a heavy or late period isn’t bothersome, but you can only assume that if you think the period isn’t important,” Gunter says. “You know the antivaxxers are going to work with this.”
And in fact, that is precisely what happened. In the past few days, social media accounts of those who oppose vaccines have started promoting the far-fetched idea that just being about people who have been vaccinated cause menstrual problems and even miscarriages. The first, as far as I know, was Kim Alberts, a self-described “health and medical freedom” enthusiast who runs a Instagram account with over 64,000 subscribers. Albert’s previous posts read like a list of the biggest hits of health misinformation and conspiracy theories: she warns of the dangers of chemtrails and extols the virtues of coffee enemas. In recent posts, Albert shared anecdotes allegedly submitted by thousands of his followers who “caught” the cycle changes of people vaccinated. For example:
And here’s another one:
There is also a Facebook group called Side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine encourage members to share similar stories. And share that they are:
Last week, former feminist icon Naomi Wolf, who has a doctorate in English literature not medicine, amplified these wild claims in a Tweeter to its 128,000 followers:
Wolf, the author of the 1990 classic The myth of beauty, has recently taken to promoting conspiracy theories, including those about the coronavirus. Her transformation from imposing giant of feminism into a grassroots provider of disinformation has been the subject of some media Warning. (She denies trafficking in conspiracy theories.)
This particular flavor of vaccine misinformation comes as no surprise to Gunter. It emphasizes the persistent (and roundly demystified) myth of “period synchronization” – a phenomenon in which menstruating people who share close quarters would have their period at the same time. But expanding this myth to include the even more absurd idea that a vaccinated person can somehow create menstrual difficulties for an unvaccinated person is incredibly offensive to people trying to counter the misinformation. Stanford doctor and disinformation researcher Seema Yasmin explained to me a few months ago when we were discussing disinformation in general that it’s because people remember the myth only because it’s interesting. , but they can’t remember if it’s true or false.
But the real source of these myths runs much deeper, Gunter says. “It comes down to all this inability to talk about menstruation.” The shame and embarrassment that surrounds cycles lead to secrecy, misunderstandings, and wild rumors. The mystery of vaccine side effects is just the latest example.
Tackling the stigma around periods is a gigantic project, but here’s a little thing that might help: Drug companies could regularly track menstrual side effects in trials so doctors can warn patients if a drug might be affecting their cycles. Gunter points out that apart from contraceptives, most doctors who conduct drug trials don’t even consult OBs / gynecologists. Some trials deliberately exclude people who are menstruating because of the possibility of them becoming pregnant. (As my colleague Nina Liss-Schultz wrote, it is still considered unethical to enroll pregnant women in trials.)
Perhaps in the coming months there will be more robust research into the possible effect of COVID-19 vaccines on cycles. It would be good. Even so, it will be an uphill battle to quell the rumors that have already spread. All it takes is a high-end tweeter to disperse 128,000 seeds. We will weed forever.