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Researchers at Harvard, BU to study possible links between coronavirus vaccines and changes in menstruation

Kim Franklin, LPN, administered the Pfizer vaccine at the COVID-19 vaccination site held at the Bay Area Neighborhood Resource Center in Springfield.
Kim Franklin, LPN, administered the Pfizer vaccine at the COVID-19 vaccination site held at the Bay Area Neighborhood Resource Center in Springfield.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/file

Harvard Medical School and the Boston University School of Public Health are among a group of institutions awarded funding to study potential links between coronavirus vaccinations and changes in menstruation.

Researchers at five institutions were awarded a total of $1.67 million by the National Institutes of Heath to look into the question after anecdotal reports from women earlier this year that after they were vaccinated, they saw changes, including earlier, heavier, and more painful periods.

Laura Payne, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and a psychologist who directs the affiliated McLean Hospital’s Clinical and Translational Pain Research Laboratory, said she would be studying a group of 80 adolescent girls “to find out whether there is a relationship between the administration of the COVID vaccination and changes in the menstrual cycle.”

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She said the study would look at menstrual cycle length, duration of bleeding, spotting between periods, changes in menstrual flow, and changes in menstrual pain.

The study will also look at whether inflammation — a normal response to any vaccine — plays a role in affecting the menstrual cycle, she said.

The study will be incorporated into research Payne already had underway of menstrual pain in 212 adolescent girls. She said she expected to be able to finish collecting data within a year for the vaccination impact study and to analyze the data and produce results by late 2022.

Lauren Wise, an epidemiology professor at the BU School of Public Health, will lead a study of the impact of vaccinations on menstruation that will use participants from the PRESTO study (Pregnancy Study Online). PRESTO is an NIH-funded ongoing study that enrolls women trying to conceive, and follows them from preconception through six months after delivery, the school said in a statement.

The study has been running since 2013 and it was already collecting information on women’s menstrual cycles through questionnaires every two months and through a menstrual charting app. In January 2021, it added questions on women’s COVID-19 vaccinations, Wise said in a statement.

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Researchers “will evaluate the association between SARS-CoV-2 vaccination and cycle irregularity, cycle length, intensity of bleed, duration of bleed, intermenstrual spotting/bleeding, and pain associated with menses,” Wise said.

“Given PRESTO’s ongoing prospective data collection throughout the pandemic, its recruitment of a geographically heterogeneous population of U.S. women not using hormones, and its repeated assessment of menstrual factors (every two months), PRESTO is uniquely-positioned to analyze data on vaccination and menstruation and provide essential information to the scientific community and the public on vaccine safety,” Wise said.

Data from a total of 1,800 women will be analyzed, she said.

Johns Hopkins University, Oregon Health and Science University, and Michigan State University are the other institutions that received funding for the research.

“Our goal is to provide menstruating people with information, mainly as to what to expect, because I think that was the biggest issue: Nobody expected it to affect the menstrual system because the information wasn’t being collected in the early vaccine studies,” said Diana Bianchi, director of the NIH’s Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which is funding the research along with the NIH’s Office of Research on Women’s Health.

Funding typically takes a year or two to approve, but Bianchi’s staff published a call for funding applications in May, with a June deadline, given the demand for answers and concern. “There was an urgency to it, the fact that this was getting so much attention. We were worried this was contributing to vaccine hesitancy in reproductive-age women,” Bianchi told the Washington Post.

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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no evidence that the vaccines cause fertility problems in either women or men. It recommends everyone 12 and older get vaccinated, including people who are trying to get pregnant now or might become pregnant in the future.

Payne said, “Even if there’s nothing dangerous happening — and it seems very unlikely that there’s any kind of harm — it’s another measure of health for women and it would be helpful to know if this has an impact on the menstrual cycle.”

Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.





Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.