OPINION: Even Vaccines Discriminate Against Women


COVID Vaccine Effects Mom’s More Than Dad’s. What’s up with that?

My mom and dad received their COVID-19 vaccines on the same day. I noticed when they got home that mom’s eyes were glassy and red. I mentioned it to her. Mom complained of headaches and muscle pain by day’s end. 

The next morning mom was still in bed at 9:30. I was aghast. She’s an early riser; one of those morning people I don’t understand (and don’t care to). But Dad was up and at ’em.

For the next few days Mom didn’t feel well. I started wondering if it was a family thing — vaccine side-effects. 

In 2020 I received numerous vaccines for a now postponed trip to Sierra Leone. 

I had roughly 13 shots over four appointments. The yellow fever vaccine went fine.

But later vaccines weren’t as kind.

A week in November: vaccinated then COVID-diagnosed. Yipee.

As luck would have it, I received two Hepatitis vaccines on a Friday,  just days after exposure to COVID.  I asked about getting a COVID test when I got vaccinated but the nurse suggested waiting so the COVID virus levels would be detectable if I actually had COVID.  

I felt fine.

I started feeling effects immediately after the injections. 

The timing made the next week especially difficult. On Monday I tried getting a COVID testing appointment. It was pandemonium. 

I didn’t qualify as asymptomatic, not with a fever. So student health services wasn’t an option. I spent three days on calls to clinics, the county, United Way and pharmacies. I searched the web for hours each day looking for an appointment.

No joy.

Initially I figured I was suffering from vaccine effects only– they’d started that day after all. But there’d been no improvement a week later. I had newer, shinier symptoms by then. 

On Thursday I gave in. I paid $150 for a rapid test appointment. 

My gut said, ‘you got COVID girl’. 

It was right.

It’s gotta be me.

I’ve long assumed when anything wonky happens with my health it must relate to Chronic Lyme disease. 

Lyme is a blood-based bacteria that can infect muscles, brain and bone.

I began anticipating vaccine reactions a few years after my diagnosis. I anticipated all possibilities by then. I had new allergies, new medication intolerances, food intolerances, recurring infections and every complication imagined even for the most routine surgeries. 

I assumed vaccine effects were just me — and that stupid Lyme, making things difficult, as always.

I never thought gender played a part in this equation. 

Until now. 

Maybe it’s not just me. Vaccines are sexist, basically. 

A study published last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed the first 13.7 million Covid-19 vaccine doses given to Americans. A trend in vaccine side effects emerged, again.

Of the side effects reported to the agency in that study,  79.1 percent came from women, though only 61.2 percent of the vaccines had been administered to women.

Women have side effects and adverse reactions from vaccines than men do. This is true for COVID-19 vaccines and vaccines in general. 

Nearly all of the rare anaphylactic reactions to Covid-19 vaccines have occurred among women. 

C.D.C. researchers reported that all 19 of the individuals who had experienced such a reaction to the Moderna vaccine have been female, and women made up 44 of the 47 individuals who had anaphylactic reactions to the Pfizer vaccine.

Women have more side effects and adverse reactions from vaccines, show studies on influenza, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, and rubella (M.M.R.). 

In a 2013 study, scientists with the C.D.C.and other institutions found that four times as many women as men between the ages of 20 and 59 reported allergic reactions after receiving the 2009 pandemic flu vaccine, even though more men than women got those shots. Another study showed that between 1990 and 2016, women accounted for 80 percent of all adult anaphylactic reactions to vaccines.

All this time I have considered my vaccine reactions as just part of life with Lyme without considering my gender. Too often this is the case for us women and for our physicians and nurses. We assume gender equality exists in medicine and biology but it does not. 

Equality is like a utopian society — something for philosophers and theorists to puzzle over. It’s not reality, nor is it likely to be in our lifetime. 

So the next time you get vaccinated, anticipate having some side effects if you’re a woman. Make your schedule more flexible the following day because statistically, you’re more likely to react if you’re a woman. 

That said, I believe vaccines are life-saving. 

Anyone who has traveled to a developing country or has worked with populations that don’t have ample access to vaccines knows the devastating, rippling impact of a population unvaccinated. 

When it’s my turn to get the COVID-19 vaccine I will do it without question. It’s a key to my postponed Africa trip which will finally become a reality. One of these days.

Just because I might spend a few days feeling icky doesn’t mean I won’t take the vaccine.

I’ll get vaccinated but with an awareness that being a female puts me at higher risk for side effects.

I’m comforted but annoyed by this fact. It’s nice to not be alone in this but really vaccines? Why you gotta be so sexist?