When it comes to medical research in general, unless a disease or virus has proven to only impact one sex over the other, men and women are often grouped together in terms of how doctors experiment to catch and fight new diseases. However, this process can be quite deadly, for example in the late 1990’s a heart drug named digoxin was marketed as being effective and safe, but after a while women were noticing a higher-rate of negative side effects when compared to men who took the drug.
After further research it was discovered that the drug was actually attributing to a higher mortality rate in women but was decreasing mortality in men. So when it comes to the Covid-19 pandemic, some experts are wondering why there isn’t more of a focus on how this virus affects the sexes differently, if at all.
Covid-19 seems to be impacting all demographics relatively equally, however, it’s already been thought of that men are twice as likely to die from the virus as women. That said, the main researchers around the world that are focusing on treatments for this virus are paying little to no attention to the variations in how it impacts an individual based on their biological sex.
One study showed that only 416 of the 2,484 Covid-19 clinical trials currently occuring around the world account for sex/gender as a criteria for volunteer recruitment. When research around the malaria treatment drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) was saturating media timelines a few months ago, studies showed that the drug caused heart-rhythm side-effects that could be deadly. These side effects, however, were mainly occurring in women.
There is a general recognition today that women aren’t as heavily involved in clinical trials as men. One of the known reasons for this is due to a series of birth defects and other problems resulting from fetal exposure to certain experimental drugs during clinical trials between the 1940s and 1970s. These defects created a massive ripple effect of scientists excluding women from medical trials if they’re at an age when they’re still fertile.
Systemic racism in general has also caused a lot of scientists to view caucasian males as the “normal” when it comes to population types, therefore however their bodies react to whatever treatment is being tested will be universal for everyone else. Back in 2001 10 different drugs were pulled from the market after it was discovered that 8 of them were posing greater health risks for women over men due to a lack of inclusion in trials. Londa Schiebinger is a history of science professor who recently discussed the importance of sex analysis in clinical trials.
“The problem is, if you don’t do sex analysis – if males and females have very different responses – you could miss accurate data on everybody.”
Many research funding agencies now have requirements for sex analysis’ in trials. Women have different hormone types and levels than men. They also have smaller kidneys and more fat tissue which is extremely important when it comes to medical research and dosage information. When it comes to infectious diseases, such as Covid-19, women are proven to have stronger immune systems in general due to their double X chromosomes. So in the same regard, ensuring that equal parts men and women are involved in all Covid trials is imperative for measuring all types of immune responses to this unpredictable virus.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.