COVID-19 vaccine may impact women differently

National Coronavirus Coverage

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The COVID-19 vaccine may affect women differently. Early research shows women are reporting stronger side effects than men after getting their shots.

The CDC published a study showing out of the first 13.7 million Americans who’d received COVID vaccine doses — about 79% of people who reported side effects were women, with about 61% of the doses going to women.

Doctors say the vaccine is impacting everything from a woman’s menstrual cycle to mammograms to fertility.

“Some people do experience some swelling in their of lymph nodes,” said Doctor Priti Shah. She is the Medical Director of Breast Imaging at VCU Health and she told us if you’ve got soreness or pain in your neck or armpit after the COVID vaccine, it’s normal.

She said, “We really want lymph nodes to react to whenever we get a vaccine or when we get sick because that means they are keeping us well.” Clinical trials for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine showed 16% of women reported some sort of sign of swollen lymph nodes and the number could be higher.

We’re told not every person in the trial was asked about their lymph nodes. While it’s a normal response to the vaccine, swollen lymph nodes can be a problem for mammograms. Swollen lymph nodes can be an indicator of breast cancer. “It can sometimes cause some false alarm,” explained Shah.

Swollen lymph nodes. (Photo by Kerri O’Brien)

If you can, patients are advised to get the vaccine before their routine screening or wait for a period of time after the second shot. Dr. Shah said, “Try to schedule your mammogram 4 to 6 weeks after the second dose of your vaccine.” Still, Shah stresses if you notice a lump or change in your breast, do not wait to schedule that mammogram. It’s best to get that checked as soon as possible.

Meantime about a third of women are experiencing changes in their period after the COVID vaccine according to Dr. Tara Scott, Chief Medical Officer of Revitalize Medical Group.

Scott said, “People have started their periods early and it is much, much heavier. Some women have reported their period is delayed.”

While it could be just the vaccine, Doctor Scott warns it could also suggest a hormone abnormality. A delayed period could be a sign of high cortisol and heart disease or diabetes. Heavy bleeding could mean high estrogen. “High estrogen unchecked for a while can lead to an increased risk of breast and uterine cancer,” said Dr. Scott.

For fertility patients scheduling procedures like egg retrieval or embryo transfers, you are advised to avoid getting the vaccine three days before or after a procedure. That’s because the vaccine can cause flu-like side effects and make it difficult to spot post-surgical infection.

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