COVID-19 doesn’t strike the sexes equally. Globally, for every 10 COVID-19 intensive care unit admissions among women, there are 18 for men; for every 10 women who die of COVID-19, 15 men die. In the United States, a gender gap is emerging in vaccination rates, with women ahead of men by 6 percentage points, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And rare adverse effects from the AstraZeneca vaccine appear to strike women more frequently, whereas those from the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines more often affect young men.
But out of 45 COVID-19 randomized controlled trials whose results were published by December 2020, only eight reported the impact of sex or gender, according to a paper published today in Nature Communications. Other recent data show even simple counts of cases and vaccinations are not broken down by sex and gender.
Senior author Sabine Oertelt-Prigione, a gender and health researcher at Radboud University Medical Center, was disheartened by her group’s findings. “I would have assumed that [sex] would be picked up in the trials, simply because it’s such an evident piece of the puzzle,” she says. Skipping that step is potentially dangerous in trials of drugs that may affect men and women differently, given their physiological differences, Oertelt-Prigione says. And it misses an opportunity to learn about the workings of the disease, adds Susan Phillips, an epidemiologist at Queen’s University who was not involved in the study.