Do women have stronger side effects to the COVID vaccine than men? Virginia doctor weighs in

Posted at 11:26 PM, Apr 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-29 06:11:18-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- While research was still being done on the differences in how the COVID vaccine impacts men and women, Dr. Melissa Viray, Deputy Director of the Richmond City and Henrico Health Districts said she would not be surprised to hear women experienced stronger side effects than men following their shot(s).

Heather Galgano still remembered how she felt after getting her COVID shots. The King William County Public Schools teacher got her first dose of the Moderna vaccine in February,

"I felt like I was hit by a Mack truck. It wasn't pleasant," said Galgano. "I was really tired, achy, you know, the flu-like symptoms."

Following her second dose, Galgano said she had a fever of 103 degrees.

Meanwhile, Galgano said her husband received the one-dose Johnson and Johnson, and only experienced mild symptoms.

"He had very minimal like, just maybe like a slight fever not even anything," said Galgano

She said comparatively her experience was far worse.

"Oh, way worse. Way worse than his. Yeah. I was very jealous too," said Galgano.

Chesterfield teacher, Alaina Jones, also experienced side effects following her second Phizer vaccine. She said they started exactly twelve hours after receiving her shot.

"I mean, I had fever, chills, sweats. I couldn't get my fever to get below 102. And that lasted for at least 12 hours," said Jones.

The CDC published a study in February showing out of the first 13.7 million Americans who’d received COVID vaccine doses, about 79% of people who reported side effects were women, with about 61% of the doses going to women.

"We are still learning a lot about the COVID vaccine," said Viray.

Viray said while research was still being done, in the past, studies had suggested women may have more of an immune response even to other virus vaccines. She said she would not be surprised if that were the case with the COVID vaccine as well.

"I would not be surprised to hear that, when they actually, you know, crunch the data, to hear that women actually have either more frequent or more severe immunogenicity like responses," said Viray.

Viray said scientists were still working to determine why that was -- and if it was hormone related, but she emphasized that these side effects were rarely severe or life threatening, and it shouldn’t be something that deters people from getting the COVID vaccine.

"It's a sign that your body is doing what you're telling it to do," said Viray. "I don't think it should stop women from getting vaccinated because their risks for COVID-19, especially if you're a woman of childbearing age or if you're a woman who's pregnant, the risks for COVID-19 infection in women who are pregnant is greater for poorer outcomes."

Although Viray said women also reported more adverse side effects than men in terms of the serious and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, as well as blood clots reported in several cases following the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, she said it was important to remember how rare these cases were.

"With regards to the more severe adverse events, whether it's anaphylaxis, whether it's this what we're investigating with the central venous thrombosis in Johnson and Johnson, all of these things, the key thing to remember is they're incredibly rare events. Upon the millions and millions of vaccines that we've had out in the public, since January, since December, there have been very, there's been only a very small amount of these relative to the number of people vaccinated," said Viray.

Despite their symptoms, months after their second shots, both Galgano and Jones said getting the vaccine was worth it.

"I feel a sense of relief," said Galgano.

She encouraged other women who had not yet gotten the vaccine, to do so.

"Being in education, you know, we're kind of on the front lines right now. And it was kind of like for the first time, we can breathe a little bit," said Galgano. "I just feel it's the right thing to do right now."