WOMEN'S HEALTH BLOG April 2021
and the Covid-19 Vaccine:
What you should know before you Roll Up Your Sleeve
Written by Dr. Michelle R. Easton
The research shows that COVID-19 doesn’t affect everyone similarly. “Soon after the emergence of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) last winter, it became apparent that mortality rates were higher for men than for women. It is also women who are more likely to bear the brunt of the social and economic consequences of the pandemic”1. Recent approval of COVID-19 vaccines has shifted our attention to this promising phase of the pandemic. As women, educating ourselves regarding the vaccine and any different considerations is essential. The following article answers the “why” and “what” about COIVD-19 vaccine side effects in women.
Should women get the COVID-19 vaccine?
The protection and prevention offered by the COVID-19 vaccine are compelling reasons for vaccination. Simply expressed, vaccines are designed to provide our bodies protection from foreign entities resulting in infection, serious health consequences, and potentially death. All currently available COVID-19 vaccines in the United States (Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson) have been shown to be highly effective in preventing COVID-19. These vaccines have been carefully evaluated using clinical trial data and must demonstrate that they are safe and effective before they are authorized/approved for use. Additionally, the known and potential benefits must outweigh the known and potential risks. Getting vaccinated helps not just the person getting vaccinated. It may also protect people around you, especially those at increased risk for several COVID-19 illnesses.
Vaccination is a safer way to build protection from COVID-19. Getting COVID-19 may offer some natural protection (known as immunity) for approximately 90 days after initial infection. However, how long this protection lasts isn’t known, and the risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 far outweighs any benefits of natural immunity. COVID-19 vaccination lessens the risk of obtaining the disease by helping your body create an antibody (immune system) response without experiencing sickness. As a result, the COVID-19 vaccination is an essential tool to improve health outcomes and prevent or stop the pandemic.
Is it true that women have more side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine than men?
Yes, after receiving COVID-19 vaccines, women are reporting more side effects. In general, decades of experience with hepatitis B, combined measles, mumps, and rubella, and the flu vaccines indicate that it is common for there to be a difference in side effects for men and women. Postulated reasons for variation in vaccine side effects by gender could be due to hormones, genes, women having a more robust immune system (i.e., more antibodies), dosing, and/or other factors.
CDC safety data regarding the first 13.7 million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in the United States, ~ 61% were women. Of the 7,000 persons who reported side effects, ~79% were women. In the case of rare anaphylactic reactions with Moderna vaccine (n=19), all were women, and with the Pfizer vaccine, 94% percent who had anaphylaxis were women (44 of the 47 people).
The promising news is that side effects tend to be mild and short-lived. We should share this information to decrease surprise or concern that something is wrong or that the vaccine isn’t working. Common side effects are reflective of an effective immune system that can recognize a foreign entity in the body. The reports of persons having strong side effects after the second dose indicate that the first dose resulted in our bodies starting to build an initial immune response and produce antibodies. The second shot can result in a more significant reaction (side effect) because the body has seen this foreign substance before. As a result, the body creates antibodies, wakes up your lymph nodes and other parts of the body to fight off the infection.
While the pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities in gender and race, it is also revealing significant vulnerabilities in our social and economic systems. The approval of the COVID-19 vaccination for use in the United States is a promising and hopeful tool in stopping the pandemic and safely allowing persons to gather, interact, live, love, and play similarly to pre-COVID-19 times. Normalcy, now that’s a powerful word to read, hear, and that many and most seek for fall 2021 and beyond.
Dr. Michelle R. Easton
Dr. Michelle R. Easton, a native of New Orleans, Louisiana, received both her Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy and Doctorate of Pharmacy Degrees from Xavier University of Louisiana. Dr. Easton completed a specialty residency in psychiatric pharmacy practice at the Medical University of South Carolina teaching hospitals in Charleston, South Carolina, and the Management Development Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is licensed to practice pharmacy in the states of Louisiana and Virginia.
Dr. Easton has over 20 years in academia. Highlights of her academic career include serving as Director of Experiential Education at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. She also served as the inaugural member of the leadership team to develop the University of Charleston School of Pharmacy in Charleston, West Virginia, as Assistant Dean for Professional and Student Affairs. She was promoted and held the position of professor and CEO Dean for ten years. In 2019, she returned to New Orleans to support and care for her parents. Currently, she is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Custom MADE Consulting, where she utilizes her John Maxwell speaker and trainer certification, Wiley Authorized Partner in Everything DiSC, Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team, and a Mental Health First Aid Trainer through the National Council of Behavioral Health to assist individuals and organizations in exceeding their personal/professional aspirations.
Her scholarly interests include student and practitioner professionalism, psychiatric and neurological disorders, smoking cessation, substance use disorders, medication safety/adherence, health disparities, and pharmacy services delivery to the underinsured and underserved populations.