Historically, outbreaks and pandemics have shown sex differences in immune responses of men and women. Thus, it can be argued that men and women respond to COVID-19 differently. Individual experiences are said to be varied according to their biological characteristics and interaction with social determinants.
The sex differences in immune responses involve the risk of exposure, the socio-economic implications, and the biological susceptibility to infections. In response to this, the national and global strategic plans for combatting COVID-19 should acknowledge these gender differences.
WHO has advised countries to conduct gender-sensitive research, and ensure that the public health policies adopted take into account gender.
Men and COVID-19: The COVID-19 Responses of Men
Even though data on this is limited, scientists have observed that more men are dying of the virus as compared to women. The exact reason behind this discrepancy is unclear. However, many biological, psychological, behavioral, and social factors have been pointed out that put men at an increased risk of mortality.
For starters, light has been shed on the neglect of men’s health at local, regional, and national levels. More men have died of COVID-19 than women in 41 out of 47 countries. Overall, the case-fatality ratio is 2.4 times higher in men as compared to women.
In the United States itself, 57 percent of the deaths caused by COVID-19 have been of men. It should be noted that the sex gap in the COVID-19 impact on men can’t be easily explained only by biological factors. Differences in sex may be biological, but several other factors are at play here.
Gender Differences in Patients with COVID-19
Most health patterns are the result of an interplay between biological, social, and psychological factors. Therefore, we must consider how sex-associated biological factors along with gender-associated psychosocial factors explain the difference in immune responses.
First and foremost, it has been noticed that throughout the pandemic, women have shown concern about catching COVID-19 than men. A survey conducted in the first wave of COVID-19 in the United States found that men were more likely to downplay and underestimate the severity of the virus.
These attitudes manifested themselves in related behaviors. For example, fewer men reported that they avoided social gatherings or large public gatherings. The gender factor also intersected the age and geography parameters. A US study found out that the relation between perceived risk and worry in respect to age and gender showed that older men were more cautious about catching the virus as opposed to young people.
Similarly, studies of black and white suburbs of America have proved that there were problematic narratives that emerged in low socio-economic black neighborhoods. In other words, the white neighborhoods reported being more careful about virus infections compared to their black counterparts.
There are several sex differences in immune responses. Men and women respond differently to immune and innate adaptive responses. This is also related to a sex-specific inflammatory response that results from X-chromosome inheritance. In simple words, men and women are biologically wired differently to respond to viral infections.
Women have significantly stronger innate and immune responses. This is contributed by the interplay of sex hormones including progesterone, androgens, and estrogen.
Additionally, men have higher plasma ACE2 levels. ACE2 is a major receptor of the Sars-CoV-2 virus. This would explain why men are more susceptible to catching the COVID-19 virus and are subject to a higher mortality rate.
Behavioral and Social Factors
The biological and psychosocial differences between men and women manifest themselves into several behavioral effects. Since men are likely to underestimate the threat of the virus, they have lower rates of social distancing, hand washing, wearing masks, etc., compared to women.
Women (47 percent) are more likely to always practice social distancing as opposed to their male counterparts (35 percent). Most men in today’s society have been socialized to be “manly”, which could translate into showing a constant fearlessness even in terms of pandemic preparedness.
The gender differences in mask wearing are also pretty evident. There has been greater compliance in women willing to wear masks than men. Studies have found that women are more likely to wear masks in indoor settings (79 percent) and outdoor settings (30 percent) than men in indoor settings (64 percent) and outdoor settings (23 percent).
In conclusion, all these factors point to the fact that the COVID-19 responses in men are way different than in women.
What are the strategies to reduce COVID-19 responses of men?
To decrease virus transmission and the COVID-19 impact on men, strategies must be proposed to deal with the gender disparity. Here are a few measures that can be taken.
1. Education and Awareness
Efforts have to be made to increase compliance with public health policies. The disparity between COVID-19 related behaviors must be narrowed down. Men should be educated about complying with the guidelines laid down by WHO and the severity of the virus. Health education is primary in any strategy to combat the pandemic.
2. Preventive Care
Of course, some men are at an increased risk of mortality due to viruses given chronic health conditions and compromised immune systems. Those men should have access to preventive care. Doctors should actively research specific risks concerning their patients, and provide them the correct preventive diagnosis.
3. Legislative Interventions
Since men are dying disproportionately, the government needs to intervene. State, local, and national policy should ensure proper legislation regarding following COVID-19 guidelines. The COVID-19 responses of men should be studied in each state, and policies of legislative interventions should be introduced accordingly.
In the end, the only way to potentially stop this pandemic is to get vaccinated. Therefore, don’t hesitate to get the vaccine when your time comes.