If women are hesitant about the vaccine, it's because the health industry hasn't earned their trust

Photo: Greg Lehman / AP
Why are women reluctant to get the coronavirus vaccine?
Mike Pence took his sweet time when it came to routinely wearing a mask in public. However, the vice president was much less reluctant to adopt the coronavirus vaccine. On Friday, just a few days after the US reported the highest number of new coronavirus cases and the highest number of deaths since the pandemic began, Pence received the vaccine live on television. It must be nice to be protected from your deadly policy errors.
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Pence isn't the only man who is skeptical of masks: many studies have shown that men are concerned that masks are not masculine. However, it seems that there are not the same vaccination concerns. According to three recent US surveys, men are more likely than women to say they want to get a coronavirus vaccine. A National Geographic survey found that 69% of men surveyed said they had some or a very high chance of taking the vaccine, compared with 51% of women. A Pew poll found that 45% of women would “probably not” or “definitely not” take a vaccine, compared to 33% of men. A Gallup poll found that 60% of women would take the vaccine, compared to 66% of men.
These data are somewhat surprising: conventional evidence, supported by much global research, suggests that women are more likely than men to take the pandemic seriously and to adhere to public health regulations. So why the hesitation in getting vaccinated?
One theory is that the female-dominated anti-Vaxxer movement has infiltrated more mainstream female spaces. Recent research by researchers at George Washington University has shown that members of online communities who were previously “undecided” about vaccines - such as animal lover groups or yoga enthusiast groups - are increasingly connecting with anti-Vaxxers. "It's like tumor growth," said one researcher.
Online misinformation that Big Tech has poorly controlled is an incredibly serious problem. Nonetheless, we should be careful about the hesitation about vaccines exclusively on Facebook et al. One reason women are disproportionately interested in alternative medicine is that traditional medicine hasn't done an excellent job earning its trust. Women's health concerns are often dismissed: one study found that women with severe stomach pain had to wait 33% longer to be seen by a doctor than men with the same symptoms. The health problems of women have also been massively researched: there is five times more research on erectile dysfunction than, for example, premenstrual syndrome, although the former affects 19% of men and the latter 90% of women. In the United States, women did not have to be included in medical research studies until 1993 because women's bodies were viewed as too complex and hormonal.
Of course, it's not just women who have good reason to be wary of the healthcare industry. Given the history of medical racism against blacks in America, it's not exactly surprising that the Pew poll found that less than half of black American adults report receiving a coronavirus vaccine, compared with 61% of whites. Black Americans have been experimented (one word: Tuskegee) and forcibly sterilized. Black pain was not taken seriously by the medical establishment because of the racist belief that blacks have thicker skin than whites. Minorities are also underrepresented in clinical trials, which can lead to technologies and treatments that do not meet their needs. For example, pulse oximeters, which measure the level of oxygen in your blood and are increasingly used due to the pandemic, can give misleading readings in people with dark skin. A new study found that black people are three times more likely to experience misleading results. Probably because the color of light used in the pulse oximeter can be absorbed by the skin pigment. Researchers would have noticed immediately if they had taken diversity seriously.
There is often a lot of ridicule when it comes to suspicion of medicine and science. People who are not enthusiastic about vaccines are considered uneducated and irrational. However, when it comes to history, it makes perfect sense for women and minorities to be wary of the medical establishment. To be clear, I am not saying there is any reason to hesitate about the coronavirus vaccine that has been shown to be safe. I say don't change people's minds by mocking them or calling them stupid. You do this by earning their trust. And the healthcare industry still has a long way to go.
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