COVID-19 cases in India are finally decreasing, despite the low double vaccination rate. The festival season has come and gone and it is safe to say that the third wave predicated for October -November this year now seems unlikely. But how are we fairing as far as the vaccination drives are considered? Let's look at it from a gendered lens. Are fewer women vaccinated?
India has so far administered 1,15,54,74,028 vaccine doses. A total of 76,27,29,598 Indians have received their first dose and dose 2 have been given to a total of 39,27,44,430 people. Any mass scale immunization programme for children under the age of 18 is still to be rolled out. This means of the total 1.4 billion people present in India only 26.9 percent are fully vaccinated and 54.9 percent have received at least one dose so far. But it also implies that around 3.5 crore fewer women have been vaccinated compared to men. And independent reports show that there is a greater lag in tribal and rural districts.
An India spend report states, "In 544 of 700 districts, which have covered at least 40% of their total population, and for which sex ratio data are available, nearly half (46%) have a worse vaccination sex ratio, i.e. the number of women vaccinated per 100 men, than the sex ratio of their population. Among the worst performers are districts in the National Capital Region (NCR) and the worst of all is Central Delhi, home to the Indian Parliament. Following Central Delhi, at second and third-lowest vaccination sex ratios are Gurguram in Haryana and Gautam Buddha Nagar, UP (Noida), respectively, both in the NCR. An average 62 women have received a vaccine dose for every 100 men in these three districts."
K. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, told IndiaSpend that "Generally, the health-seeking behaviour of women is poor. Thanks to the patriarchy, women's health is not a priority in most households. Travelling a long distance to the vaccination site, particularly if there is no male member to accompany them can prevent them from getting the vaccine."
A report by Hindustan Times from September 2021 cited that in Maharashtra, "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."
The gender gap in vaccinations cannot just be attributed to the lopsided sex ratio. It is related to gender inequality. Access to healthcare remains gendered in this country with families often prioritising the health and welfare of men over women. There need to be greater outreach efforts to eliminate the inherent inequalities which society faces. With the gradual decrease in the reported cases, there is going to be a general apathy toward vaccinations which could have grievous consequences for unvaccinated women, because fewer number cases and no cases are two separate things. Besides, the threat of the third wave of COVID-19 pandemic isn't entirely over.
Most people make up their minds about vaccination based on anecdotes and thus there is general apprehension towards the side effects (fever, body ache) of the vaccine as homemakers and caregivers for their families. These fears need to be explained. Right now is the time to guard against the apathy to the vaccination.