Comment Writer Samar Ahmed discusses the fear-mongering surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine for women, arguing that the lack of research into women’s bodies is a story all too familiar
Social media has remained a vital tool during the pandemic for an endless number of communicative and informative purposes. However, the one downside of the integral nature of media has been the fear-mongering that has surrounded the COVID-19 vaccine. More specifically, false information and rumours are being spread regarding fertility and miscarriages, which have made many statements ranging from claiming that the vaccine is making women infertile to saying that it is directly related to women miscarrying or being unable to get pregnant. If you are looking for an article to debunk many of these myths, the BBC has already done that particularly well; however, what I am interested in exploring is how the androcentric nature of science has been reproduced in the vaccine debate.
Androcentric bias refers to putting the male body at the centre of everything, of seeing male bodies as the standard and the norm and female bodies as ‘other’. This can be in culture, history and, perhaps most significantly, science. Arguably, much of the fearmongering surrounding the vaccine has been centred on the negative effects it can have on women, on their fertility, their chance of miscarrying, and the risk of transmission of the virus to the unborn child. Facebook posts have been seen going viral urging women to not get the vaccine as it has the potential to render their bodies infertile, a claim which scientists have reassured is not true. While I definitely believe social media has played an important role in creating unnecessary fear about the vaccine, leading to people not wanting to be vaccinated, I think it is also a plausible debate that there simply has not been enough research into the actual effects of the vaccine on female bodies, which male bodies may not necessarily encounter.
The majority of my female friends and relatives, if not all, have noticed a change in their menstrual cycle since getting vaccinated, myself included. Whether our periods have come early, been delayed, been heavier and more painful than usual, we all have attributed these changes to the doings of the vaccine. More women are also reporting these side effects to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Online, female medical experts have also stated they have experienced similar changes to their periods, which is something that doctors fail to mention at the vaccination appointment. While the doctors and nurses will warn you of temporary side effects such as feeling feverish, fatigue, and a sore arm, no chance of possible changes to the menstrual cycle are mentioned, despite many experiencing this.
So, the question arises: why is science ignoring the fact that the vaccine is certainly having an effect on women’s periods?
The link to androcentric bias remains as research around the vaccine negates how male and female bodies can react in different ways – as the male body is the norm, surely women getting abnormally heavier periods, earlier or later than usual, is just a mere coincidence and certainly not worthy of scientific investigation? Rather than anti-vaccinators spreading rumours about infertility and scaremongering women into not getting the vaccine, which is backed up with little to no evidence, should there not be more effort going into researching longer-term effects on the female body?
In general, having specific research done to investigate effects on women’s bodies would reduce the impact of rumours which are spread around to create anxiety and fear surrounding the vaccine. The importance of science not having a male-centred bias would also improve women’s treatment of issues which often go unnoticed or undiagnosed, such as endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome. Rather than scaring women into believing sensationalised myths about their own bodies, would it not be more prudent to undertake further research into the long-term effects of the vaccine for women?
It is generally agreed that the changes some women are experiencing regarding their period after being vaccinated are short-term and usually not something to worry about. Rumours spread via social media platforms have certainly been debunked with little evidence linking miscarrying to the vaccine, or how a vaccine, which has not even been out for a full year, can cause infertility in women. However, the discourse around the COVID-19 vaccine in scientific research must shift away from an androcentric perspective that neglects and marginalises how different bodies can react, rather than allowing the fearmongering amongst women to continue.
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