As COVID-19 vaccines roll out across America, optimism is high and society is hopeful that normalcy is approaching. People can’t wait to get back to work and mingle with friends and family without a mask and social distancing.
Amid that hope and enthusiasm, however, vaccine side effects are getting the attention of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the wider population.
Of course, it was expected that there would be minor side effects, but not such a clear disparity between the sexes. Reports show that 79% of those reported side effects are women.
People were given 13.7 million doses of the vaccine and were encouraged to report any side effects. In late February, the CDC published a study on the first month of its administration of the virus. The difference was discovered but not very surprising in some circles.
That discovery was not a one-off occurrence either. Another study done in February by the CDC and published in JAMA highlighted severe potential life-threatening allergic reactions of 19 people (who were all women) to the Moderna vaccine. Also, 44 of 47 persons who took the Pfizer Bio-NTech, in the study were women and experienced adverse effects.
Here are some reasons the CDC says this might be happening.
5. More Women Reporting Than Men
At this point, it is pure speculations as to why women are experiencing adverse side effects to the COVID-19 vaccines. One reason the data shows this phenomenon could likely be that more women are reporting their symptoms than men. This is according to infectious disease expert Amesh A Adalja, MD, and senior scholar at John Hopkins for Health Security.
More women may be reporting their bad experiences after taking the vaccine, but there is more going on here. Women have more autoimmune than men, according to William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist.
He says the exact reason for this is unclear, but women’s immune systems are more reactive, and hormone differences may be at play here. Estrogen in women is affecting the immune system positively while testosterone dampens it.
Because of women’s stronger immune systems, they react to the vaccines more intensely. Dr. Schaffner says the difference in immune systems between men and women needs further study by the medical fraternity.
3. Difference in Drug Metabolizing
Jennifer Wider, MD, says men and women metabolize drugs differently. Clinical trials, she says, do not take into account this difference between the sexes. And the regular vaccine dose may be a bit heavier for females.
Dr. Wider also says that antibody responses to the various vaccines are likely to be slightly higher in women than men. Studies show that women produce more fighting antibodies than men when given vaccines for yellow fever, rabies, Hepatitis A and B, MMR and others.
Research also reveals that age plays a significant role also. This results in side effects in women being more pronounced. The same thing happens for the flu shots, “and is something that needs to be studied in more detail,” says Dr. Adalja.
Dr. Rajeev Fernando, an infectious disease expert who works in field hospitals around- the world, says this has been happening for years. Women everywhere need to be aware of this, he advised.
Researchers are still trying to uncover why women’s immune system is stronger than men’s and leads to more severe side effects. Studies are linking high testosterone to the weakened immune system. The boosting of the immune system is pushed by estrogen and progesterone.
In March 2021, a small study published in the journal Chest revealed that COVID-19 male patients in the hospital were given the female hormone progesterone and received improved results.
Interestingly, scientists have discovered genes relating to immunity on the X chromosome. This is pointed out by Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, working in the Division of Critical Care Medicine at John Hopkins Medicine. Men have only one chromosome while women have two, which means women have an extra immunity gene if one is damaged.
Dealing With Side Effects
The CDC gives the assurance that the vaccine’s side effects are signs that it is building up a protective barrier against the virus. Reported side effects include:
- Muscle pain
- Pain where you got the shot
- Redness around the area you got the shot
- Swelling in the vaccinated arm
The most reported effects are dizziness, fatigue and headache. Experts encourage everyone, including women, to take the vaccine, despite the side effects. The benefits of getting the vaccine far outweigh dying from the virus and having side effects.
Medication for Side Effects
It’s essential to know the correct medication that will be effective and not make the situation worse against the side effects. The CDC gives the OK to take over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, antihistamines and acetaminophen for pain and discomfort after taking the vaccine.
The CDC advises against taking any of these meds before taking the vaccine. That’s because no one knows how they will impact the effective workings of the vaccine.
For the arm soreness where you got injected, put a cool, wet cloth on it and move the arm as much as possible. And if you have a fever, drink lots of fluids and dress lightly.
We all should realize that it’s not detrimental to have side effects to the COVID-19 vaccines or other flu-like vaccines. Our strong immune systems help the body adjust to the vaccine.