5.1 million fewer Covid vaccine doses given to women compared to men in Maharashtra
While Maharashtra has crossed the 60-million mark in administering Covid-19 vaccine doses, at least 5.1 million fewer doses have been administered to women. The gender disparity in vaccination stands at nearly 3% when compared with the estimated population of the state.
As of September 2, Maharashtra had administered over 32 million vaccine doses to men and a little over 27 million vaccine doses to women. Of the state’s estimated 66 million male population, nearly 49% have received at least one dose while among the estimated 60 million females, around 46% have received at least one dose.
State health officials attribute fewer jabs among women to the skewed sex ratio. However, public health experts say that it’s an invalid argument. “In absolute numbers, a 3% gender gap means a lot for a densely populated state like Maharashtra,” said Soumitra Ghosh, associate professor at Centre for Health Policy, Planning and Management, Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
“More importantly, when we look at the combined statistics of the state, it masks the greater gender disparities at district-level or block-level. Certain districts and blocks will have a wider gender gap in vaccinations compared to others. There will also be gender gaps in rural and urban population,” he said.
Mumbai, which crossed the 10-million mark in vaccinations on Friday as per Co-WIN data, has administered 5.6 million doses to men and 4.3 million to women. In absolute numbers, 1.3 million fewer doses have been administered to women in the city. Similar gaps exist in other districts too. In Ahmednagar, which is now recording among the highest daily Covid-19 cases in the state, 185,000 fewer doses have been administered to women. Beed district in the drought-ridden Marathwada region has administered 88,500 fewer doses to women compared to men.
“The disparities are likely to be more evident when data is studied at a micro-level,” said Ghosh, adding that the state government must conduct microanalysis as it will have policy implications.
According to a research article published in the Observer Research Foundation, the gender gap in vaccinations cannot be attributed to a skewed sex ratio alone. “It has several underlying gender inequality-related issues contributing to it. Longstanding structural problems in healthcare and the gendered nature of healthcare access have resulted in families being less likely to prioritise health and welfare of women over men.”
Dr AL Sharada, director of non-profit organisation Population First, agreed. “The dynamics in many families is such that men would be given a preference or may be more willing to take the vaccine as they have to step out for work, while women may be at home. This also applies when access to free vaccines is difficult and one has to pay for the jab,” she said.
Post-jab side effects also play a role in delay in vaccinations among women. Household work takes a hit if the homemaker or woman in the family falls ill, and this fear often leads to women postponing their vaccination. Misconceptions about pregnancy-related complications, irregular menstrual cycles, hair fall have also led to hesitancy.
Experts said gender-sensitive policies that involve targeted efforts to get women to vaccination centres can help bridge the gap. “Organising special vaccination drives for women and leveraging the private sector through subsidies and CSR initiatives for women should be considered by the state,” said Ghosh.
Director of state health services Dr Archana Patil and state immunisation officer Dr Dilip Patil remained unavailable for comment despite multiple attempts.