Men lagging behind women on COVID-19 shots

·7 min read

May 24—Men make up the largest demographic group that is lagging behind on COVID-19 vaccinations, but the state's push to close vaccine equity gaps ignores men as a group.

Around the globe, men are more likely to die of COVID-19.

Despite that risk, 1,127,211 women in Oregon have received at least one COVID-19 shot compared to 965,287 men. The gender of another 5,826 people is unknown, according to Oregon Health Authority data from Monday.

Women make up 53.7% of vaccinated people in Oregon, compared to 46% for men.

The gender gap is even wider in Jackson County, where 50,644 women compared to 40,596 men have received at least one shot. Vaccinated people without a reported gender number 980, according to Monday data from OHA.

Females account for 54.9% of the vaccinated in Jackson County, while men represent 44%.

OHA declined requests from the Mail Tribune to comment on the state's lack of focus on the gender gap.

Gov. Kate Brown previously announced counties can have looser COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and activities if 65% of county residents age 16 and older receive a first dose. Counties must also submit a vaccine equity plan.

Alternately, all counties will have restrictions lifted if the state as a whole hits a 70% vaccination target for those age 18 and older.

Jackson County isn't likely to hit the county goal of 65% vaccination before Oregon hits the statewide 70% goal, but Jackson County is sending its vaccine equity plan to the state just in case.

As of Monday, Jackson County's vaccination rate was 49.2% while the state rate was 64%, according to OHA data.

The state's instructions on preparing a vaccine equity plan ask counties to detail their efforts and plans to close vaccine inequities for racial and ethnic groups, people with disabilities, agricultural workers, youth, homeless people and other traditionally underserved groups. There is no mention of men as a specific demographic group.

Even before COVID-19 vaccines became available, a gender gap was predictable.

Men are less likely than women to seek preventative health care, including flu shots, research shows.

Oregon prioritized health care workers, educators and senior citizens in the early months of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, and women outnumber men in those groups. Vaccines are now plentiful and available to everyone age 12 and older.

The gender gap is also partly tied to politics. Men are more likely to identify as Republicans. Compared to Republican men, women and Democratic men are more likely to tell pollsters they plan to get a COVID-19 shot or are already vaccinated.

Jackson County Commissioner Dave Dotterrer, a Republican, said he has received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dotterrer said he wasn't aware of the county or state gender gap on vaccination until it was pointed out by the Mail Tribune.

"There's a gender disparity ― no doubt about it," he said in response to the numbers.

Dotterrer said he supports equality, including on the vaccination front.

"What makes sense is to look at the different demographics and then target that, whether it's people of color, a particular gender or a particular industry or profession," he said. "It would make sense to take a look at that and analyze the reason why and see what can be done to make a difference."

Dotterrer said he isn't sure what messages would encourage men to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

"I decided I wanted to do it because I felt comfortable about the safety of the vaccine and therefore I did a cost-benefit analysis and decided it was a prudent thing to do," he said.

Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer, a Republican, said he also hadn't noticed the vaccination gender gap before being contacted by the Mail Tribune.

Dyer said there are many personal reasons that factor into a person's decision to get vaccinated.

"Men are a broad category. It could be hard to pinpoint a specific message that would resonate universally or predominantly with men," he said.

Dyer said he, his wife and his teenage son are all vaccinated.

"For my decision, I looked into the process that went into the (federal Food and Drug Administration's) emergency approval of the vaccines. I felt comfortable that it was safe for us. We also wanted to do what we could to get things opened back up and to protect our family," said Dyer, an advocate for easing state restrictions on businesses, schools and student sports.

Dyer said he doesn't know enough about other people's personal situations to offer advice on whether they should get vaccinated. He recommended people consult with medical professionals they trust.

Nationally, most states and county health departments aren't trying to reach out to men specifically about COVID-19 vaccination.

A Maryland focus group with conservative men and women found that providing accurate information about the vaccines while respecting people's personal freedom could ease vaccine hesitancy.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the launch of a campaign to reach conservatives and religious groups that focuses on the science of the vaccine development and testing.

In an effort to reach men, the Oklahoma City-County Health Department placed ads on a sports radio show and worked with sports announcers to do public service announcements encouraging vaccination.

The Philadelphia Flyers hockey team launched a "Take Your Shot" campaign to encourage vaccination, while Major League Baseball teams have sported a "Take One for the Team" slogan.

Last week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Jackson County business leaders recorded video interviews for a "Let's Get Going" vaccination campaign. The ads will appear on television and social media. Five are in English and two are in Spanish.

The leaders represent Sherm's Food Markets, Bella Union Restaurant, Common Block Brewing, the Britt Music Festival, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Tacos de Volada and El Mocajete Mexican Grill.

While the ads aren't specifically aimed at men, they do appeal to people's desire to return to normal life and restore the economy, while also emphasizing the freedom and relief business leaders felt after getting vaccinated themselves.

Jackson County Health Promotion Program Manager Tanya Phillips said Jackson County Public Health hasn't specifically reached out to men as a group about COVID-19 vaccination.

"As this keeps going, we could see more targeted ads to reach specific populations and age groups," she said.

Teens and young adults are lagging behind on vaccination rates compared to older adults.

Phillips said Jackson County would probably need help from a marketing firm to figure out what messages would resonate with men, and what would be the best ways to reach men.

Meanwhile, Phillips said Jackson County will let the state know about its efforts to reach a variety of people by submitting a vaccine equity plan.

The Jackson County Expo has hosted free mass vaccination drive-thru events and continues to be the site for free walk-thru or drive-thru vaccinations. Appointments and identification are not required, shots are available regardless of immigration status, and help is available for people who are disabled or speak a language other than English.

La Clinica, which has long focused on serving low income and Latino people, is among a wide variety of organizations offering vaccinations.

A mobile clinic is visiting sites that range from the Medford growers' market to Mexican restaurants to grocery stores.

Harry & David's and Amy's Kitchen are among the businesses with diverse workforces that have hosted vaccination events. The Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Medford, which has both English and Spanish-speaking members, has hosted pop-up vaccination clinics.

"Vaccination rates are not as high as we would want them to be in every category ― not just men," Phillips said. "We want to see vaccination rates increase. In the end, it's going to take everybody. The more people we have vaccinated, the more safe we'll all be."

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

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