Women in Horry County and across South Carolina are getting vaccinated more often than men.
Experts aren’t surprised.
In Horry County, around 49.6% of eligible women have been vaccinated while only 42.7% of eligible men have gotten their shot, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
That trend continues across South Carolina, where the vaccination rate among eligible women is 10 percentage points higher than the vaccination rate among men. Only 34.5% of eligible men have been vaccinated against COVID-19, while 44.5% of women have gotten at least one dose of their vaccine.
Public health experts said because women tend to do a better job at keeping up with their doctor’s appointments, the vaccine uptake wasn’t any different.
Numerous studies have found women are more likely to visit the doctor. One study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found women were 33% more likely to see a doctor, even excluding pregnancy-related visits. Men can also be less open about their health concerns and less proactive about preventative care, according to according to Rachel Mayo, a public health professor and associate dean in the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences at Clemson University.
“The United States is similar to other countries where men may be more stoic and may be less likely to talk about sensitive issues or concerns they have with their health,” Mayo said.
Could the disparity affect herd immunity in Horry County?
Early on in the vaccination effort, priority was given to people at high risk of contracting severe COVID-19, meaning people 65 and older and people working in healthcare. Those groups include more women than men, explaining the early disparity in vaccination rates among genders.
But now, all adults in South Carolina have been eligible for the coronavirus vaccine for more than a month and the vaccination rate among men still hasn’t caught up.
That raises questions about how far away herd immunity is. Horry County has an estimated 69% of residents immune to COVID-19, but the virus isn’t gone and unvaccinated people are still susceptible to infection.
“The people who have not yet been vaccinated or had the disease might say, ‘I don’t need to get it, because everybody else is immune,’” said Dr. Gerald Harmon, vice president of medical affairs at Tidelands Health. “They may think it’s not worth their time … This is still a substantially debilitating, potentially fatal viral illness.”
Horry County has now reached 29,110 cases and 443 deaths since the start of the pandemic. The county has 139,887 residents vaccinated, according to DHEC.
Why are women getting the vaccine more often?
Traditionally, women have been in charge of making the family’s medical decisions and appointments, according to Mayo. That can mean when men go to a routine screening for cancer or diabetes, it’s because of “a female in their life who encouraged them to do so,” research has shown.
“In this case, I think it’s going to take that and it’s going to take a campaign to show how this will truly protect their family,” Mayo said. “It is an individual decision whether to be vaccinated, but your decision can impact your whole family.”
In general, women took the pandemic particularly hard, Mayo said, though that’s not to say men didn’t struggle, too. Women lost their jobs at a higher rate, and many were tasked with figuring out distance learning for their children while working themselves. Meanwhile, some occupations that weren’t interrupted quite as much, like construction and law enforcement, are male dominated.
“So there was an unequal burden for those women who did have small children at home, for those women who were in low-paying jobs, those women who were taking care of elderly parents or women who lost their jobs,” Mayo said.
For that reason, Mayo said, women might see the vaccine as the key to get back to a normal life.
“So I think when the vaccine was available, they said, ‘Hey, this may be the ticket out of this,’” she said.
How do public health leaders hope to increase vaccine rates among men?
The disparity between female and male vaccination rates is happening on a national scale, too.
So, how are public health leaders planning to improve vaccination rates among men? Some point to friends and family to help.
Approaching people who haven’t been vaccinated and asking if they need a ride or help making an appointment could help, Mayo said, and people tend to put more trust in their family doctor than someone they don’t know personally, according to Harmon.
Part of it depends on proximity to people getting vaccinated, too. If people, men in particular, see their peers or role models getting vaccinated, they could be more likely to get the shot themselves, Mayo said.
The state health department has noticed the lag in vaccine uptake among men and is considering different ways to approach the COVID-19 vaccine and alter plans to make the vaccine more appealing to men, according to DHEC Public Health Director Dr. Brannon Traxler.
“We are discussing and brainstorming on ways to reach all different populations, and that includes looking at making sure that we’re doing messaging and outreach that is appropriate and directec toward men as well as to women,” Traxler said.
To find a COVID-19 vaccine site near you, visit vaxlocator.dhec.sc.gov or call 1-866-365-8110.