In countries of the Americas, such as the United States, Brazil and Argentina, women are getting more vaccinated against Covid. In parts of Africa and India, the situation is reversed: more men have been vaccinated.
The role of each in different societies and the appreciation of a traditional male figure in some countries help to explain these differences, which can delay general immunization and the end of the pandemic. Vaccination data by gender has been compiled by The Covid-19 Sex-Disaggregated Data Tracker, organized by the UK-based Global Health 50/50 initiative that aims for gender equality health, in partnership with two other NGOs.
The initiative searched for numbers in 198 countries, but only 39 of them detail vaccine application by gender. Generally speaking, the population of nations is almost always divided into 50% men and 50% women. Thus, women are vaccinated more in the United States (they took 53% of the doses already applied), Brazil (58.5%), France (53.8%) and New Zealand (60.6 %).
For public health specialists in Brazil, this disparity is not new, as women tend to take more care of their health. “This behavior is linked to women’s access to education in each country and the way in which society values them,” says Eliseu Waldman, professor in the infectious diseases department at USP. In places like Gabon and India, where there are few doses and where women have less place in society, men have taken the lead.
“They are looking for a lot more information on prevention. There is a culture that they are the stewards of family health as they care for children, grandparents and husbands. It may sound sexist, but it is proof, ”says Isabella Ballalai, vice-president of SBIm (Brazilian Immunization Society).
Another reason for the higher vaccination rate is that they generally live longer. In the United States, the life expectancy of women is 81.2 years, compared to 76.2 years for men. In Brazil, this figure is 80.1 years for them, and 73.1 years for them. And in both countries and much of the West, the elderly were immunized first.
In the United States, however, vaccination has been permitted for anyone over the age of 16 since April, and yet the difference is huge. Across the country, around 8 million more women have been vaccinated than men.
Male resistance helps explain the slowdown in the vaccination campaign in the United States. Despite the abundance of doses, the country has fully vaccinated, to date, 46.4% of its population.
Experts point out that the concept of traditional masculinity may explain their lower demand for protection. Men are more likely to question expert advice and reject preventative measures such as using sunscreen. That is, they prefer to decide for themselves what actions to take.
These trends repeated themselves during the pandemic: US surveys reveal that men were less likely than women to wear masks and hydro-alcoholic gel and to respect social distance. Some believe that following these rules may be a sign of weakness.
“Respect for traditional male norms is linked to negative attitudes about wearing masks,” points out one of the studies, published in the Journal of Health Psychology and produced by James Mahalik, Michael Di Bianca and Michael Harris, who interviewed nearly 600 people. In August.
There is also a political factor. In the United States, conservative movements linked to the Republican Party attract followers who admire the model of the fearless and self-sufficient man. And this legend has politicized the pandemic: its main figure, Donald Trump, refuses to wear masks and has organized crowd events in 2020, while he was still President of the United States. His message, that there was no need to fear the virus and that the science was worth ignoring, resonated with men who like to be assertive.
“Often the rhetoric of the far right is against healthy attitudes, like getting vaccinated, wearing seat belts and controlling speed on the roads,” said Waldman of the USP.
In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro acts like Trump and continues to promote agglomerations and despise masks, while seeking to associate himself with symbols of virility, such as going out on motorcycles or riding horses. A Datafolha survey carried out in March showed greater resistance in men: 82% of them said they intended to be vaccinated. In women, the intention reaches 86%.
Nationwide, women took 57.4% of doses and men 42.6%. There is greater equality of distribution in northern states, like Roraima and Amazonas, where they received around 53% of the vaccines applied, according to data from the Department of Health referring to the first dose. In the Southeast, the gap is greater: in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, they took nearly 60% of the vaccines.
In recent months, the gap has narrowed. In January, Brazilian women took nearly 7 out of 10 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine applied. In June, they received 5.7 out of 10.
Experts point out that one way to increase male participation is to change the way campaigns are run. “Communication is generally very focused on women and children, and the man doesn’t see it. We have to include the male figure, ”emphasizes Ballalai of SBIm.
Symbol of Brazilian vaccination, Zé Gotinha is part of the logic of the call of children. For the campaign against the Covid, a complete family has been created for the character. Meanwhile, in March, Federal Deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro (PSL-SP) released an image that showed the mascot wielding a syringe-shaped rifle. Very criticized at the time, the design was no longer publicized. While some see the refusal of vaccines as proof of bravery, the gesture could be a sign of fear, Ballalai says. “Those who work with vaccines joke that men are most afraid of injections. I’ve seen a lot of them pass out.”