Why COVID-19 policy should explicitly consider men’s health
Written by Jennifer M. Ellison, MA and Andrea R. Semlow, MS, MPH and Emily C. Jaeger, MPH and Erin M. Bergner, MPH, MA and Elizabeth C. Stewart, DrPH and Derek M. Griffith, Ph.D. on March 26, 2021
In this opinion feature, researchers from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, explain why COVID-19 policies in the United States should explicitly consider implications for men’s health during the pandemic.
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Having a gendered response to COVID-19 might have led to the pandemic having far less of an impact on health and the U.S. economy. This gendered response should include women’s disproportionate social and economic burdens and men’s higher rate of mortality.
There is a current and urgent need to prioritize men’s health related to the COVID-19 response, yet neither the strategy of the former administration nor that of the current administration considers these gendered patterns.
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When people discuss gender, the focus is almost exclusively on women. However, men have been dying at far higher rates than women since the earliest days of the pandemic.
Women experience more economic and social hardship, but men die more. The point is not one of competition. There is a need to explicitly consider gender in our national response to the pandemic, and including gender should include men.
How COVID-19 has affected men
From as early as 2019, reports on COVID-19 cases in China found that as many as 75% of the deaths were in men. In March 2020, reports from Italy documented that 4 out of 5 deaths among the first 827 people who died were in men.
In the U.S., the pattern of COVID-19 being more fatal for men than women has held. These gender inequities are even greater when we consider age and race.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report of vaccine dissemination in the first month found that only about 40% of those who received the first dose were men. This pattern of vaccine distribution has persisted in recent months, as people have started to receive their second doses.
The vaccine dissemination plan prioritizes groups who are more likely to contract the virus and die from it, such as older adults, people with chronic conditions, and essential workers.
Using this same logic, it seems that men should be prioritized, too. A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. hit the grim benchmark of 500,000 deaths — the majority of which were in men.
Given these points, why have we not considered adapting the COVID-19 response to help men more effectively?