We all know that the priority of health workers this year has been the rollout of vaccines. The government has done everything in their power to make COVID-19 vaccines available (although many have questioned the efficiency of the rollout).
Data studies and clinical trials had to be done as swiftly as possible so that countries around the world could make the health of citizens the utmost priority.
Centres for disease control and prevention, agencies in charge of approving vaccines, and vaccination clinics were under pressure to support herd immunity.
Immunisation has been made a priority, and the lack of domestic vaccine production has been the root of the problem during the pandemic.
There is the dilemma between fast-track options and helping boost confidence in the safety of vaccines.
It goes without saying that a lot of the misinformation, medical myths, and confusion has created anti-vaxxers in the process.
Although the anti-vax crowd precedes COVID-19, the lack of transparency with the rollout and the fear-mongering around AstraZeneca can’t have helped the public perception.
This scepticism only became drastic since staying at home encouraged more self-assessment. After all, self-checkups and personal diagnosis became a thing, some turning to social media and unprescribed medication for answers.
People were warier and wanted answers on safety concerns or any increased risk associated with the vaccines.
Further misinformation, or lack thereof, proved to ignite some ruckus on the internet.
One of the areas that might have been overlooked during clinical trials, which caused waves online, is women’s health.
Pregnant women and breastfeeding mums were concerned about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.
In addition, gynaecological talk gained traction as menstruation issues arose after women received the vaccine.
Reproductive health and pregnancy planning also became a hot topic and public health concern.
So what are the myths and facts regarding the COVID-19 vaccines and their relation to women’s health?
Pregnant people are a priority group for vaccines
Across the globe, many pregnant women have received vaccination without problems. The critical health concern then is, why some are still scared, and the risk this delay among pregnant women could pose.
The initial clinical trials did not include pregnant women, and that’s a fact. But this does not indicate a lack of progress in research on the matter.
The last thing we want is for pregnant people to contract COVID-19 as it exposes them to a higher risk of premature delivery and severe illness.
YES, researchers have observed premature delivery among women who had COVID-19 during their pregnancy.
And while comprehensive data on COVID-19 vaccines and pregnancy is still limited, we must acknowledge that it is growing.
Therefore, we need to spread awareness of the risk Covid itself brings to pregnancy.
Now, most anti-vaxxers might not know this, but many of our trusted medical professionals agree that COVID-19 vaccines are safe for pregnant women. The institutions include:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)
- The Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM).
To add to this, the National Institutes of Health has actually started a study on COVID-19 vaccines during pregnancy and postpartum.
According to the Melbourne Vaccine Education Centre, clinics should prioritise the immunisation of pregnant women who did not receive a COVID-19 vaccine before conception.
This eligibility is a privilege that should definitely be taken advantage of.
Even a couple of studies show that Comirnaty, the Pfizer vaccine, can be given at any stage of pregnancy.
It’s also good to know that antibodies have been detected in vaccinated mums’ cord blood and breastmilk, suggesting that protection transfers to the baby.
Studies suggest that Pfizer is the preferable option for pregnant women and breastfeeding women over AstraZeneca, which is yet to be studied for pregnancy risks.
Menstrual changes are (bloody) tough to study
Heavier periods and irregular periods: to the women reading this, you know these occurrences well.
But it’s still important to hear out those women who noticed drastic period changes when they got jabbed.
But gynaecologists and researchers say that a causal link between the vaccines and periods is yet to be established.
Despite being large in numbers, the stories are not enough to prove the jab causes the changes in menstruation.
Even Lee and Clancy describe only brief disruptions to menstruation. “From what we have seen so far, it appears that the changes to the menstrual cycle seem to be short-lived.”
Doctors say it is vital to be fully aware that menstrual irregularities are usually caused by various factors — from stress to medication or health supplements to birth control.
However, this presumed causal link cannot stop the worry among some people. Lack of vaccine information is not reassuring, that’s for sure. That’s why these research gaps still need to be addressed.
Plus, the (justified) backlash to the suggestion that women are overly emotional and “unstable” with their presumptions about the vaccine’s relation to menstruation is not helping.
Dismissing these experiences erases the genuine concerns that some women have. Many of these quandaries could be easily address — meaning one less person lost to misinformation and potentially persuaded to get the vaccine.
Swollen lymph nodes aren’t a sign of breast cancer or growth
Honestly, whose ears wouldn’t (excuse the pun) perk up at news about a “free boob job” from the Pfizer vaccine?
“Pfizer boobs” became a trending topic on social media, especially when TikTok user, Elle Marshall, said she was “confused” when her breasts became larger after getting the Pfizer jab. (Credit: ElleMarshalll/TikTok)
Let’s get real for a second and debunk the rumours.
The Department of Health has listed swollen lymph nodes as a “less common” side effect of the Pfizer vaccine, especially when injected in the upper arm.
The reason behind breasts seeming temporarily enlarged is the buildup of antibodies in the lymph nodes.
This side effect has also been recorded in the US with the administration of the Moderna vaccine.
According to The Conversation, this is a protective immune response the body prepares to combat the virus.
Another study on the topic has been published by The Radiological Society of North America, advising doctors and patients to be aware of the side effect to rule out any potential false cancer diagnoses.
It is helpful to note the advice for those scheduling a mammogram. According to the American Cancer Society and the Society of Breast Imaging, you should book your appointment before receiving the vaccine or four to six weeks after getting it.
It’s been advised for women who’ve had breast cancer to get the COVID-19 vaccine injection on the opposite side to where their cancer diagnosis was.
The importance of research and making informed decisions
It’s easy to become the victim of media framing or fake news if we don’t do proper research or believe the word of conspiracy theorists online over professionals with years of experience.
With all the grey areas and confusion in the digital world, we must learn to be vigilant in the face of propaganda.
Moreover, this is also an excellent time to reflect on the lack of understanding and research around women’s health.
We must include women of all backgrounds in clinical trials to prove vaccine safety, especially those groups that have been historically underrepresented in medical studies.
With the health of all demographics considered, we can stop the spread of fake news about the vaccine risks, as they can be ruled out before things get out of hand.
Moving forward, the COVID-19 vaccines need to be better researched to determine the murky areas that social media might expose, like the lack of data on menstruation side effects.
It’s good news that the myths around vaccination and its effect on pregnant women and cancer have been eliminated for Pfizer.
Responding more than reacting — that’s what’s important. Especially when deciding whether or not to believe medical claims, it’s vital to do proper research and inquire with your GP.