Why are women hesitant about getting the coronavirus vaccine?
Mike Pence took his sweet time when it came to routinely wearing a mask in public. The vice-president was a lot less hesitant about embracing the coronavirus vaccine, however. On Friday, just a couple of days after the US reported the highest number of new coronavirus cases and the most deaths since the pandemic began, Pence received the vaccine live on television. It must be nice to be protected from your deadly policy failures.
Pence is not the only man to have been skeptical of masks: plenty of studies have shown men worry masks are not masculine. However, it seems there aren’t the same fears about vaccinations. Men are more likely than women to say they planned on getting a coronavirus vaccine, according to three recent US surveys. A National Geographic survey found 69% of men surveyed said they were somewhat likely or very likely to take the vaccine, compared to 51% of women. A Pew Survey found that 45% of women would “probably not” or “definitely not” take a vaccine, as compared to 33% of men. A Gallup poll found 60% of women would take the vaccine compared to 66% of men.
This data is somewhat surprising: conventional wisdom, backed by lots of global research, is that women are more likely than men to take the pandemic seriously and comply with public-health regulations. So why the hesitancy about getting vaccinated?
One theory is that the anti-vaxxer movement, which is dominated by women, has infiltrated more mainstream female spaces. Recent research from researchers at George Washington University found members of online communities previously “undecided” on vaccines – groups for pet lovers or yoga enthusiasts for example – are increasingly connecting with anti-vaxxers. “It’s like a tumour growth,” one researcher said.
Online misinformation, which Big Tech has done far too little to control, is an incredibly serious problem. Nevertheless, we should be wary about blaming hesitancy around vaccines entirely on Facebook et al. One reason women are disproportionately attracted to alternative medicine is because traditional medicine hasn’t exactly done a brilliant job of earning their trust. Women’s health concerns are often dismissed: one study found women with severe stomach pain had to wait 33% longer to be seen by a doctor than men with the same symptoms. Women’s health problems are also massively under-researched: there is five times more research into erectile dysfunction than premenstrual syndrome, for example, despite the former affecting 19% of men and the latter affecting 90% of women. In the US, medical research trials weren’t required to include women until 1993 because women’s bodies were considered too complex and hormonal.
It’s not just women who have good reason to be wary of the health industry, of course. Considering the history of anti-Black medical racism in America, it’s not exactly surprising that the Pew Survey found that fewer than half of Black American adults say they intend to get a coronavirus vaccine, compared to 61% of white people. Black Americans have been experimented on (one word: Tuskegee) and forcibly sterilized. Black pain hasn’t been taken seriously by the medical establishment because of enduring racist notions that Black people have thicker skin than white people. Minorities are also underrepresented in clinical trials, which can result in technology and treatments that don’t meet their needs. Pulse oximeters, for example, which measure the oxygen levels in your blood and have been increasingly in use due to the pandemic, can give misleading readings in people with dark skin. A new study has found that misleading results happen three times more often for Black people. Probably because the colour of light used in the pulse oximeter can be absorbed by skin pigment. Which would have been something researchers would have caught straight away if they took diversity seriously.
There is often a lot of sneering when it comes to distrust of medicine and science. People who don’t enthusiastically embrace vaccines are cast as uneducated and irrational. However, if history is anything to go by, it is perfectly rational for women and minorities to be wary of the medical establishment. To be clear: I’m not saying there is any reason to be hesitant about the coronavirus vaccine, which has been shown to be safe. I’m saying that you don’t change people’s minds by sneering at them or calling them stupid, you do it by earning their trust. And the health industry still has a long way to go when it comes to doing that.
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Week in ‘what the hell is in my treearchy?’
This year we’ve had owls in Christmas trees. We’ve had koalas in Christmas trees. Now we have a racoon in a Christmas tree: please watch this hilarious video of a woman attempting to evict a sneaky raccoon from his festive hideaway. This is also the last newsletter before Christmas so, if you celebrate the holiday, enjoy! And make sure you check your tree for stowaways.