The Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Pause Is Good News for Taking Women’s Health Seriously – Teen Vogue

But womens health researchers say that the state of birth control research has improved significantly since the pill was first introduced in the 1960s. And thanks to advocacy that started decades ago and pushed for womens inclusion generally in clinical trials in the 1990s, women were equitably represented in the COVID vaccine trials. Now, as federal regulators monitor the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, advocates say its vital that doctors listen to women who report symptoms of clots.

Any woman whos asked her doctor why she has polycystic ovarian syndrome has likely heard, I dont know. Like so many other reproductive issues that go understudied, doctors don't yet know what exactly causes this condition. And given that lack of adequate research on reproductive health, Cynthia Pearson, executive director of the National Womens Health Network thinks it makes sense that theres an untapped well [of frustration] thats right there ready when any worrisome thing develops in the world of womens health.

We, to this day, do not know why uterine fibroids happen. We don't understand nearly as much as we need to about endometriosis. Theres no test for ovarian cancer, she says. But, thanks to the tireless work of advocates, the state of womens health has dramatically improved. That includes in research around blood clots and birth control.

The problem in the early days was that the results the very, very early results that showed the blood clot risk of these high dose oral contraceptives were dismissed. And once they were accepted by authors, they weren't shared with women, said Pearson. In that doctor-knows-best era, women were not able to protect themselves by taking quick action when they develop[ed] warning signs of a complication, because they didnt know what to look for.

In 1970, the U.S. Senate convened experts to testify on the safety of the pill and women audience members, outraged that no patients had been included in the hearings, began shouting out their concerns. That was the birth of the womens health movement in the United States, said Pearson. As a result of the pill hearings, drug manufacturers lowered the estrogen levels in oral contraceptives significantly.

The womens health movement returned to Congress 20 years later when congresswomen, speaking from their own lived experiences began questioning the gendered gaps in medical research about cancer, cardiovascular disease and other conditions. In 1990, the National Institutes of Health opened its Office of Research on Womens Health. Shortly after, the NIHs National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute launched the Womens Health Initiative, which, alongside research into heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis, assessed the risks of combination hormone use in postmenopausal women. Then, in 1993, congress passed the Revitalization Act, requiring the NIH to include women and minorities previously often excluded from trials in clinical research. Today, Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration all have offices on womens health.

As a result, says Carolyn Westhoff, editor-in-chief of the journal Contraception and professor of reproductive health at Columbia University, birth control is very well studied these days.

In the US and Europe every single new hormonal contraceptive must have follow-up studies to assess clot risks. These studies typically include 100,000 women, a huge number for a clinical trial, she says. Substantial research is aimed at identifying the clot risks associated with the many hormonal contraceptives, but because these types of clots are so rare research has not been able to identify big differences between the formulations. The main aims of research now are to identify women most at risk for clots and develop safer contraceptives.

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The Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Pause Is Good News for Taking Women's Health Seriously - Teen Vogue

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