A team of researchers analysed the immune responses generated in 22 women and 17 men, all of whom were admitted to the hospital soon after contracting the coronavirus infection.
Coronavirus study: While coronavirus can infect anyone, a study published on Wednesday has found that older men are up to two times more likely to fall severely sick and to die as compared to women of the same age. The study, the first one to look at differences in immune responses due to the sex of the person, has concluded that this is because the immune response to the virus is weaker in men than in women, according to a report in IE. The findings of the study were published in the Journal Nature.
The study suggested that men, especially those above 60 years of age, might need to be more dependent on vaccines for protection against the virus. The report stated that Yale University’s Immunologist Akiko Iwasaki, who led the study, said that the natural infection was failing to trigger an adequate immune response among male patients.
The report stated that the study’s findings remain consistent with what is known about the differences in challenges to the immune system of people of different sexes. Women have faster and stronger immune responses, most likely because their bodies are tuned to fighting off pathogens that threaten unborn or newborn children. However, this constant state of alertness of the immune system can also be harmful and therefore, most of the autoimmune diseases — which result from overly strong immune responses — are more prevalent in women than in men.
Dr Marcus Altfeld, an immunologist at the University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany, said that the researchers were looking at two sides of the same coin. He, along with other experts, suggested that there was a need for companies who were developing vaccines to segregate their data by sex, as that may influence their decisions regarding the dosing.
Altfeld added that there could be scenarios where young women or young individuals might need just a single shot of the vaccine, while older men might need three. While companies involved in the development of vaccines have not yet released their data analysed on the basis of sex, the USFDA has asked them for data segregated and analysed based on sex, racial background as well as ethnic background, the IE report cited a Pfizer vice president, Dr William Gruber, as saying.
The team of researchers analysed the immune responses generated in 22 women and 17 men, all of whom were admitted to the hospital soon after contracting the coronavirus infection. For the study, the team collected samples of blood, saliva, urine, stool as well as nasal and throat swabs from the patients every 3-7 days.
Patients who were on ventilators or on other drugs affecting the immune system were excluded from the study. Apart from that, the data from additional 59 men and women who did not meet the requirements was also analysed, the report stated.
In a nutshell, scientists found that more T-cells, which can kill the virus-infected cells, were produced in women, while the activation of T-cells was much weaker among the males. This activation was slower as the age of the male participants increased. And this lag in the activation of T-cells linked to the level of virus-induced sickness among men.
Iwasaki said that men lose the ability to stimulate T-cells as they grow older, while they found that even 90-year-old women generated a decent immune response.
However, the study was limited in its scale and since the patients were above the age of 60 years, it was difficult to assess how the immune response changed with age.