Women Falling Behind in Vaccine Efforts

17 October 2021

People from the poorest countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East are starting to receive COVID-19 vaccines. But the latest information shows that women are vaccinated at lower rates than men.

Experts say women in Africa may be the least vaccinated population around the world, in large part because of misinformation and distrust. But problems getting the vaccine and inequality exist far beyond Africa. Barriers to receiving the vaccine include cultural opinions, and a lack of technology. Women, sometimes, are not prioritized.

Information about the rate of vaccine distribution to women is lacking in many countries. Officials agree, however, that women are clearly behind men in some places. Experts say the issue must be addressed for the world to defeat the pandemic.

Clare Wenham is a professor of worldwide health at the London School of Economics.

"If women do not get vaccinated at the same rates as men, they will become even more marginalized," she said. "This will just be one more instance where they are excluded from society."

Sarah Hawkes tracks worldwide coronavirus information by sex at University College London. She said whether women were able to get the vaccine earlier in the pandemic was often decided by how countries gave out their first shots. She said Pakistan and other countries gave their first vaccines to groups like the military and immigrant workers, who are more likely to be men.

Sasha Fahme is a women's health researcher at the American University in Beirut. She said that in Lebanon, like much of the Middle East, women were protected from COVID-19 at first because they were more likely to follow social distancing guidelines.

Over time, she explained, women faced higher exposure to the virus. Women are more likely to do household work and take care of sick relatives. Fahme also said women were less likely to have information about the virus because they have lower reading rates.

Naima Sadaka is a 36-year-old mother of three from southern Lebanon. She did not consider getting the vaccine because she believed there were scientific disputes about it, which is untrue.

"Since there are disagreements among the people of science over it, so, better without it," Sadaka said.

Many studies have proved all COVID-19 shots approved by the U.S. and Europe greatly reduce the risk of hospitalization and death.

In this Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 file photo, a woman combs the hair of her sister, a COVID-19 patient, at the intensive care unit of the Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein, file)
In this Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 file photo, a woman combs the hair of her sister, a COVID-19 patient, at the intensive care unit of the Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein, file)

In Bangladesh, the use of technology to increase vaccination rates may have hurt women.

Government information from September showed that 8 million men, but just 6 million women, had received their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

Ramesh Singh is the Bangladesh director for the organization CARE. After working on COVID-19 measures in some of the country's clothing factories, Singh noted that most of the workers were women. He said the factories have been open throughout the entire pandemic.

"That would seem to put women at higher risk because they're exposed, but they were not getting enough protection," Singh said.

Singh explained that Bangladesh began vaccination efforts by asking people to register on a mobile app. Women who did not have mobile phones could not sign up. And while registration has now grown beyond the app, some women from rural areas still face barriers.

Officials say that vaccinating more women in poor countries may depend on an important group: female healthcare workers. Women make up 70 percent of the world healthcare workforce. Research, however, has found women to be more distrustful of vaccines than men. Some female healthcare workers are also distrustful.

Chioma Nwakanma is a doctor who works in Lagos, Nigeria. She is saddened that some nurses do not think the vaccine is important.

"And if female health workers are not confident in the vaccine, then why would the women take it?"

I'm Dan Novak.

Maria Cheng reported this story for The Associated Press. Dan Novak adapted it for VOA Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.


Words in This Story

prioritize v. to organize (things) so that the most important thing is done or dealt with first

pandemic n. an occurrence in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people over a wide area or throughout the world

marginalize v. to put or keep (someone) in a powerless or unimportant position within a society or group

exclude v. to prevent (someone) from doing something or being a part of a group

exposure n. the fact or condition of being affected by something or experiencing something : the condition of being exposed to something

dose n. the amount of a medicine, drug, or vitamin that is taken at one time

confident adj. having a feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something : having confidence