Gender Gap in Vaccination: India and the US – A tale of 2 countries

June 30, 2021 7:54 AM

A stark comparison between a developing nation (India) and a developed nation (U.S.) would enable us to perceive the big picture, and fathom how many variations could we expect.

covid 19As of 3rd May 2021, about 38.5% of the male population had been vaccinated, compared to 43.3% of the female population (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention data).

By Rajesh Mehta and Deshna Jain

2021 accompanied with itself a glimmer of hope with the onset of vaccination drives in most of the nations around the globe. An essential constituent to comprehend the effectiveness and equity of these drives is to examine how adequately they cater to the distinct needs of society and elevate the disadvantaged population. A stark comparison between a developing nation (India) and a developed nation (U.S.) would enable us to perceive the big picture, and fathom how many variations could we expect.

The tale of India:

The Indian Vaccination drive appropriately is professed to be unbiased, the cycle doesn’t segregate among its residents Yet, at this point, the matter of concern is, "is the Vaccination drive gender delicate & Examining the information available on the vaccination drive indicates a striking insight. The vaccination gender gap is deepening in nearly all states. As of 1st June 2021, there has been a 15% gender gap (CoWin), with a larger share of men getting administered with their first vaccine shot. The gender gap has been most elevated in the states of Jammu & Kashmir, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. Almost all the Indian states show an alarming gender gap.

One would conclude that the gender gap in vaccination is due to the skewed sex ratio, but this claim has proved to be just a statistical bias. Revisiting our previous question, what are the reasons behind this gender gap? The problem lies in our social structures. Men have a favourable status in several rural parts of the country, and control most of the resources there. The notion of home for women and the world for men hampers the arrangement. As per the World Bank Data, women in India are lagging in terms of receiving the required amount of nutrition, within a family, it is usually the males who receive a greater share of food and better health care facilities, while the medical needs of women are usually neglected. With such a mentality, no wonder why women are losing the vaccination race. The digital divide is another obstacle, especially for the rural women, most of them do not have an access to a smartphone, and vaccination centres are far away from their homes, thus, they always look for someone to accompany them.

Proceeding to the urban areas, some notions of love and responsibility come into play. In urban households, the women would believe that it is more important for other family members to get vaccinated before them. It is believed that if the woman of the house gets vaccinated first, then for the coming days, the functioning of all the daily activities would be hampered as the woman might need some rest. A far more serious reason would be fake news and rumours. When the vaccination drive was thrown open to everyone above 18 years of age, absurd rumours were circulated like wildfire. There were myths that women should not get vaccinated during their menstrual cycle, and that vaccines were causing infertility in women. The rumours spread to an extent that the government had to proffer clarifications about the safety of vaccines. It is intriguing to know what is the scenario in other nations.

The tale of the U.S.A:

Coming to developed nations like the U.S., the scenario is the opposite and more women are getting vaccinated than men. The gender gap subsists, but in favour of women. As of 3rd May 2021, about 38.5% of the male population had been vaccinated, compared to 43.3% of the female population (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention data). The reasons could be diversifying here, some of the most plausible ones are that women in the U.S. are expected to live about five years more than men, and make up about 55% of the country’s 65+ years population. This group was eligible for their shot earlier than other groups. Women also account for a larger proportion of essential workers, who were also prioritized for vaccination (U.S. Census Bureau). From an economic lens, many men may not afford to take a leave for getting vaccinated and be cautious of a cut in salary, or of losing their jobs if they get sick. Los Angeles is the largest city in California, and both the places show similar trends, with women outnumbering men in the administration of vaccination doses.

Fig 2. Vaccine administration in California ( Source: Govt. of California)
Fig 3. Vaccine administration in Los Angeles (Source: covid19.lacountry.gov)

A lesson to learn: Both the countries have the same problem, though different scenarios. The model of Nordic countries can act as an ideal model here. As per the World Economic Forum & Global Gender Gap Index, the Nordic countries top the list. Eliminating gender inequality is not an easy task, these nations have worked hard from the beginning to elevate women to the status of men, this reflects even in their vaccination drives. These nations have not only vaccinated more than half of their citizens, but also maintained the gender aspects of it. These counties also top the Happiness Index, this is the magic that happens when you ensure gender equality in all its forms. Nations like India and even the U.S. have a lot to note from the Nordic model.

(The authors – Rajesh Mehta is a leading consultant and columnist working on Market Entry, Innovation and Public Policy and Deshna Jain is an intern at NITI Aayog and a researcher with keen interests in public policy and economics. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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