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A few of us at Zafigo noticed a change in our monthly cycles after getting our first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. After trawling the web for some answers, we discovered some interesting facts that some might not be aware of.

According to The National Center For Biotechnology Information, the endometrium (a lining of the uterus) is an immune responsive tissue in a woman’s body, that when injected with vaccines like the COVID-19 ones to create antibodies, may result in the endometrium being unstable. These may cause bleeding changes and timelines in our monthly cycle. 

We also learned  from Lisa Mullen, M.D, a radiologist from John Hopkins Medicine, that women should schedule mammograms four to six weeks after the last shot for a more accurate reading. This is due to the enlargement of lymph nodes from the vaccine; and it takes some time for the swelling to go down. 

Aside from the many false information being spread by anti-vaxxers, there is very little credible data or research out there on the direct impact of the varying vaccines on women’s health. It is important to note that a recent news article on BBC assures that vaccine side effects are temporary, and do not affect fertility. 

To shed more light on the vaccine impact on women, we talked to eight ladies from varying ages across the world to share their first-hand experience, in hopes that other women may be better informed and prepared through shared knowledge. There is no denying that together, we can be better informed and supported.

*Kindly take note that everyone reacts differently, and if you have any concerns about your menstrual health, please consult your doctor and seek further advice from a medical expert. 

27 days of bleeding

Whitney Hawke, 34
Occupation: Intervention Specialist for pre-schoolers with special needs
Location: Ohio, USA

I received the Pfizer vaccine and about two hours after my first shot, I had a shooting headache stabbing from the top of my head down through my neck with hot flashes throughout the day. For birth control, I’ve been on Depo-Provera and haven’t had a period in over a year, which is why I was surprised to get my period in the hours following my first vaccine. That evening, the hot flashes stopped, and I couldn’t seem to get warm even buried under two Sherpa blankets. 

Like a lot of others, I was tired the next day and had a sore injection area. My period kept going and I eventually called my gynaecologist explaining what had happened after my vaccine. Their return call said that I could come in, but there’s so much unknown about the vaccine that it might be useless. I made an appointment for the following week that I later cancelled as my period had ceased after 27 days. 

I thought I was the only person with menstrual side effects and was shocked to see that others did too. I only had fatigue and a sore arm with the second shot, thankfully. With women’s health, these issues get overlooked and underreported. I hope that others become aware and that there’s further research into this area.

Hit pause on menopause – my period’s back!

Marites Lorena, 52
Occupation: Au pair
Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Although I’m a foreigner living and working in Malaysia, I was fortunate enough to opt-in for the AstraZeneca vaccine and got a slot along with my employers. I was lucky too after my first dose, having experienced nothing more than mild body aches (nothing a patch of Salonpas couldn’t fix!). What was most unusual was that I’d gotten my period after being menopausal for over two years! 

I’ve seen a gynae, and the ultrasound and urine test they ran all came back normal. Next up is a pap smear to be sure I’m totally in the clear. Although, the gyane did mention that if my period comes back again, then a biopsy is in order – but I hope it doesn’t come to that. 

I did mention to my specialist that I’d received the vaccine recently (three weeks before my surprise visit form Aunt Ruby), but she insisted that it’s unlikely related, although extremely coincidental. I guess we’ll only really know for sure after I get that pap smear and if more women who’ve experienced something similar to me come forward. 

Hot and heavy

Haruka, 31
Occupation: Stay-at-home mom
Location: Petaling Jaya, Malaysia

After getting the first dose of the AstraZeneca shot, I went through the usual symptoms of extreme hunger, tiredness, lethargy, and a mild fever. I’d felt better the next day, with no more fever, but I still felt really hot, thirsty, and was perspiring the entire day. By the third day, everything seemed normal, and I continued to breastfeed my baby. 

But that didn’t last long as my period came by surprise – almost two weeks early! My menstrual cycle is usually consistent. I also noticed that my flow was heavier than usual with more than the normal amount of ‘blood clots’ coming out. No heavy cramping though, thank goodness!

So, for those of you about to get vaxxed, be prepared in terms of supplies – Panadol, coconut water, fever patch, and (I guess now) maxi pads too! Clear your schedule, take a day off to do nothing. If you’re a mom too, get someone to help you watch the kids while you rest up. 

A vicious cycle

FER Morgan-Wells, 37
Occupation: Caregiver
Location: California, USA

While I had no severe side effects from either dose of the Moderna vaccine – all I experienced was a mild headache and the standard arm soreness after my first shot and exhaustion coupled by arm soreness after the second – it did make my monthly cycle go off. 

I was two days into my period when I got my first shot and there was no change to the severity of my cramps, flow, or duration. But two weeks later, with no lead up signs, I started another cycle. Sometimes I have dark brown spotting between cycles, but this was a full period and lasted my usual five to six days.

After finishing this unexpected period, I was left wondering if my whole cycle would be altered. I should have been two to three days into a new cycle on the day of my second shot, so I didn’t think I’d get my next period for a few more weeks. Nope, my expected period started just a few days later. It’s now been two weeks since my second shot and I’m using liners everyday on the chance that a rogue cycle occurs again.

Now I know I’m not alone. If we work to destigmatise menstrual health in general conversation, this information would be more widely known. I did my own search for answers after my surprise mid-cycle period and there wasn’t much information offered through official channels. I found a handful of Tweets and Instagram Stories regarding the link between the uterus and the immune system. This information would have been much appreciated beforehand to alleviate the concern of a surprise period.

A surprise visit

Tina L, 38
Occupation: Artist
Location: California, USA

I got the Pfizer vaccine and I think it made my period start early. It’s also important to know that I don’t have a noticeable menstrual cycle because I’m on a hormonal medication to manage my endometriosis, and throughout my life I didn’t experience much cramps. So, for me to get a strong cramping pain, and for it to last several hours, was unusual for me because of my hormonal medication (which suppresses a strong period from occurring). The pain was more intense and stronger than normal cramps, and I needed to sit/lie down to let it pass before I felt comfortable enough to do anything. 

Although I knew from family and friends who had gotten the vaccine before me that I may experience side effects, what I didn’t know was how intense the side effects would be. So I made sure to set aside the day of the appointment and the following day as a day of rest. I stayed home, so that if I was feeling fine one minute and unwell the next, I wouldn’t be caught anywhere not feeling well. I could take naps as needed, and have some tea or pain relief medication that provided relief from the cramping.  For my second shot, I made sure to once again block off a few days afterwards to not make any plans. I didn’t notice any side effects after my second shot.

Is this Malaysian timing?

Apsara Menon, 40
Occupation: Early childhood educator
Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Like many others, I had a mild fever and lethargy after receiving my first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which went away within 24 hours. However, my menstrual cycle was delayed by a few days (I’m usually very regular). The bleeding was very heavy for about four days and I had severe cramps as opposed to my usual cycle where I usually have one day of heavy bleeding and mild cramping. I wish I’d known that this is a possible side effect of the vaccine. It would have helped because I was really worried about the heavy bleeding and made an appointment to see my gynae. What helped was a lot of rest and plenty of fluids, and eating clean. 

A pain in the abs

Cami, 32
Occupation: Full-time engineer and mom
Location: California, USA

I gave birth to my son in July 2020, and received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in April 2021. I didn’t feel much, but having gone through three rounds of IVF I thought that maybe I was resilient to shots. But after my second dose in May 2021, while I didn’t feel many side effects in the flu category, my lower back was sore. 

I chalked this up to having to carry my baby around all day, but within the next 24 hours I was experiencing major cramps, very similar to the contractions I had while giving birth. I knew my period was either close or I was already starting it, and my sister (a nurse) told me that port-partum periods can change, but it’s really interesting to factor in that I’d just gotten my vaccination and the cramps were the most severe they’ve ever been. Pre-pregnancy, the worst I’d feel is minor discomfort, but not enough to even mention in gym class. So the cramps were very new to me! 

If it happens to you, prepare for the cramps with a warm compress and breathe through them. 

*BONUS – Not period-related, but women’s health related*

Worried about my breast friend

Beatrice C, 50
Occupation: Senior project manager and social media manager
Location: France

In France, you can only be vaccinated with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines if you’re under 55 years old – I received the former. After the first dose, I was dizzy for a couple of days and my arm was hurting for a good week. The pain went down to the breast on the side where I’d gotten inoculated. It happened after my second dose of Pfizer too – my arm hurt for a few hours and that same pain spread down to my breast. 

I started coughing right after the vaccine and it lasted for three weeks. It was exactly as if I had bronchitis, so my lungs and back were sore. I’ve been very tired as well, only recovering six weeks after the second shot. Due to the pain I experienced in my breast, I made an appointment for a mammogram to make sure there’s no issue. 

My advice to anyone about to be vaccinated is not to stress about it. Talk to the nurse/doctor you will see about your concerns, like allergies. If you’re afraid of needles, don’t look at it. I promise it doesn’t hurt at all. Most importantly, If you have any doubt or don’t feel good afterwards, don’t wait. Call your doctor or go to a hospital.