From time to time I publish guest articles on faithroot.com. This article comes from Ash Cunningham, assistant pastor at Grace Church Cheltenham and is in response to my article yesterday on vaccine hesitancy and vaccine denial which Ash had prior sight of.
I’m no Ghetto Barbie
I hope that the following article wasn’t entirely prompted by my taking exception to Dave Williams comparing me to Nicki Minaj last week, but it’s hard to deny that it motivated my objection. I’m about to talk about something of which I have no personal experience whatsoever. Alas, as my friends will tell you, this is not much of a headline. But here we go, this is my article about periods.
Last week I tweeted an objection to the BBC’s handling of two bulletins on the radio:
1) Care workers who refused to take the vaccine were about to be fired
2) Tens of thousands of women had reported that their periods had been drastically affected since taking the vaccine.
My point was not, as some chose to hear, that the vaccine was dangerous, nor was I stating that the vaccines definitely caused these problems with women’s cycle and flow. My point was that there should probably be some discussion about the overlap in the stories: that an industry dominated by women was firing people for not taking a vaccine from which tens of thousands of women had reported to have had personal side effects. ‘Personal’ both in the sense that it was first-hand, but also, crucially, that the side-effects were what most women would consider to be private – yet over thirty-thousand reported anyway.
I admit I have some qualms over forcing people out of their job for not taking a vaccine anyway, though I’m aware of the complexities in this particular field, having previously worked as a head carer of a nursing home. But there is a difference between making vaccinations a prerequisite for all hiring going forward, and firing people for not meeting a requirement to which they never agreed. The point here is that there clearly needs to be a large study done to assess the potential effects of the vaccine on menstruation.
Dave, in his accompanying article, worries that this would lend credibility to anti-vaxxers, no matter the results, and especially if the results showed there to be negative side effects. This seems to make the assumption that our initial understanding was that the vaccines would definitely have no side effects whatsoever, but this is patently not the case. We knew all along that it was possible for side effects to occur… we didn’t know what they might be, but we were satisfied by the powers that be that it was worth the trade off.
Quite lot of people feel ill for a few days, (I myself, idiot that I am, forgot to eat beforehand – I dutifully sat for my 15 minutes, got up to leave and keeled over onto the floor). All vaccines have some sort of side effects – my 1 year old son recently got a series of jabs which led to
a) A brief but serious regret at having decided to go the route of reusable nappies,
b) A couple of semi-sleepless nights and
c) the unforgettable “you betrayed me” look your baby gives you when you take them out for a nice walk then hand them over to be stabbed in the legs by some stranger. I’m not trying to minimise- my point is that acknowledging a side effect is not the same as saying something isn’t worth doing.
I’d be interested, in this regard, to know how many women who reported side effects still went back for their second jab – I note that Lara Prendergast, one of the first journalists to report on this, did indeed return. Perhaps women can be trusted with the relevant data after all? The alternative would require some peculiar line-drawing, if we are not to investigate serious effects of the vaccine on women’s periods then should we also not tell them that the needle might hurt lest we scare the poor, hysterical dears away? The whole deal seems controlling at worst, deeply condescending at best.
What ‘makes’ an anti-vaxxer?
On top of this is the irony that what will really increase the numbers of anti-vaxxers is the awful treatment of those who raise reasonable concerns. If one is immediately labelled a conspiracy theorist for wondering why your cycle has been flung off course, then you have an immediate affinity to those labelled the same way, with the added bonus that the don’t treat you like scum nor hide evidence from you.
My drawing attention to the possible affect of the vaccine on periods was not an attempt to put people off taking it… nor do I think it would have done, certainly not on any kind of scale. The loss of trust in the vaccine actually occurs when it becomes taboo to talk about the side effects – when people are shamed and bullied for doing anything other than pasting their ‘vaccinated’ sticker over their profile pic. Here are two of the points that were levelled against me along with a brief rebuttal:
1. “Joining together [these two reports] is horrendous [and] sexist against all the women who have lined up to get their jabs taking a balanced view of the risks just like the men have.” I shan’t say much about this – it’s an example of the shrill name calling, but it also assumes that all women experience periods in the same way and all make decisions in the same way. You tell me who’s sexist…
2. “Correlation does not equal causation” (repeated several times) Far, far too often “correlation does not equal causation” is used as a dismissive mantra to discredit theories on the basis that two factors correlate. The correlation that has led approximately 30,000 women to report a dramatic change in their periods after receiving the vaccine is not proof at all, but it is enough to raise concerns and, surely(!?) provoke a study.
I am convinced that vast numbers of them would have taken the vaccine anyway (if data were collected, we could see how many went back for their second shot) – the assumption is not that a woman would reject the vaccine if she knew that it would affect her period… the assumptions are a) that it is right for a study to take place so she can be warned and b) it is right that a study should take place to see if the effects can be mitigated against.
Caroline Criado Perez, writing in 2019, criticised the habitual behaviour of the drug trial industry for a failure to test drugs on women at different stages of their menstrual cycles:
“When women are included in trials at all, they tend to be tested in the earlier follicular phase of their menstrual cycle, when hormone levels are at their lowest – i.e. when they are superficially most like men.”Caroline Criado Perez 2019 from Invisible Women ,204.
It would seem, with precise vaccination dates on record and the prevalence of period trackers, that initial data would be incredibly easy to obtain regarding whether or not it would be prudent for women to be vaccinated at a certain point in their cycle. At what stage will it be worth us doing the research, bearing in mind that the children we don’t vaccinate today are the adults we encourage to get vaccinated tomorrow? Do we never do the research for fear that too many women wouldn’t be able to make a rational choice off the back of the data and simply expect women to bear the cost?
Even if I believed, which I do not, that an understanding of the side effects would threaten herd immunity as women refused the jab, it would still bother me to see pastors ‘clamping down’ on those voicing concerns. Moral pragmatism has long been an issue in the Church, and this seems to me to be another example of it – ‘let’s not find out the truth of the matter, and let’s shame those who talk about it, lest the people do the wrong thing with the Truth.’
My main beef with all of this is that it’s the same people who get dumped to the bottom of the pile every time – it’s hard to keep regarding it as a coincidence that women’s rights are the first to get dumped by the purveyors of ‘right and wrong opinions’. The government have been repeatedly reassuring women that the vaccine doesn’t affect fertility. But if your ovulation cycle is messed up, then it does affect fertility by definition! I still hear you shouting “correlation doesn’t equal causation” and I’m afraid I don’t care – all causation is marked by correlation, and if people continue to refuse to test data any further than that, then that’s all we have to go on… well, that and the fact that you won’t even look at the data… it’s almost as though refusing to look at evidence in order to bolster your cause will directly lead to conspiracies growing against your cause… until then, I’m holding out for a judicial review to assess parliaments reckless legalisation of firing workers for not adhering to post-requisite demands.
This article is a response to the suggestion that it isn’t worth assessing whether or not the women who refuse the vaccine had legitimate concerns. If you were a woman who is already used to lying balled up in pain during her period, or else pumping yourself full of painkillers and slogging it through through your shift and decided, on balance, not to get the vaccine until more data were available, then I imagine, now facing the sack, you might disagree.
Same if you were a single, childless woman in her 30s who still hoped to have a family who was concerned by the lack of research into the effects on fertility and would be gambling more than the rest of us. Aside from all this, there is a humongous underlying issue which I want to end on: this week Karen Ingala Smith published research detailing the ‘Femicide’ statistics in the UK, including the 81 women killed by men since the brutal murder of Sarah Everard.
As Ingala Smith herself points out, neither the police nor the government have analysed the data, it has taken, in her words, “a random northern woman in east London” to gather evidence via FOI requests for us to know that nearly two thirds of women killed by men are killed by a current or ex-partner and at least a third of those were trying to leave. This would seem like relevant data for the police and government to collect, no? The reason I’m closing there is to point out that we as a society will not research on behalf of women if there is the slightest chance we won’t like the outcome… but if men stand to benefit, we’ll research the heck out of it.
A male contraceptive pill was recently tested and binned because it interfered with men’s body chemistry (“oh unknowable universe!” cry all the women on the pill that magically only affects them in desirable ways). For a million other examples of this, I suggest you buy Perez’s book ‘Invisible Women’.
I’m not against vaccines – not in the slightest – but we have GOT to stop refusing to look at data when it comes to women’s health and livelihoods. It’s simply not ok for us to look away from evidence for the sake of convenience, and it does have significant cultural consequence