Are Women Really More At Risk Taking Birth Control Than The Johnson & Johnson Vaccine?

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Why More Women Are At Risk Taking Birth Control Than The Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause began on April 13 after six women found themselves afflicted with a rare blood clotting condition. One of these women has died. This comes after close to seven million people have been vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson shot. 

The loss of life for any reason in the search for a cure to a major public health threat is always enough to warrant a closer look. Though six in seven million might not appear to be a significant number on its own. For instance, one in a thousand women who take oral birth control will develop a blood clot. 

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So is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine more dangerous for women and why are the CDC and FDA pausing the shot?

The major issue is that the type of blood clot that these six women were afflicted with is vastly different from the average clot that women can experience while on birth control. While any clot can be fatal, the kind we’re seeing from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is very rare and more dangerous. 

The conditions are so different, in fact, that federal officials are asking people not to make the comparison in the first place. They cite the fact that blood clots in women who take birth control are also very rare, and even less common than clotting in pregnant women. 

Pregnant women are actually five times as likely to come down with a blood clot than the general female population. 

But clots like these can be readily treated with anticoagulant medication. 

Why are women more at risk?

The disproportionate effects on women does beg the question, though — why are women more at risk for side effects in the 21st century? 

It all begins with the story of gender bias in medicine. Early medical trials were either focused on men as trial patients or conducted by male researchers. Women were dismissed as trial subjects in medical research for a variety of reasons, from menstruation, to hormones, to blanket “inferiority” in the earliest days.

Whether or not modern medicine’s blindspot was intentional or not, bias has seeped into the field, with fatal results. 

Women suffering heart attacks are more likely to die than men. Women are more likely to suffer from chronic pain than men. Women are less likely to receive effective treatment for sexual and reproductive health issues. And a quarter of U.S. women don’t know where their own vagina is

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Because the data, symptoms, and treatment models are based on male anatomies and physiques. Amazingly, studies have been conducted to uncover specific mechanisms about female health where not one single female was enrolled. 

Everything, across the board, has been designed for men. Risk factors, procedures, medical equipment and devices, even the tools of healing themselves were designed to fit into male hands. 

Will there be a Johnson and Johnson lawsuit? 

As of now, the decision makers are proposing a pause of just a few days to determine if the current guidelines governing the J&J vaccine need to be changed. If more women are not affected, if the results are not considered statistically significant, then it’s possible that vaccinations will continue as normal. 

If the investigation turns up more data that reinforces the calls for caution, then it’s possible we may see legal repercussions going forward, especially considering the rushed timeline in place to get these vaccines approved and administered to the public. 

It’s important to note, however, that the legal burden of proof of vaccine injury is a much, much lower bar than scientific proof. Vaccine compensation is awarded based on logic and a lack of other obvious causes of injury, as opposed to rigorous scientific investigation. 

That’s not to say that all medical lawsuits are frivolous. Far from it, when it comes to women in particular, the gender bias in healthcare has led to many legitimate reasons for filing suit against medical practitioners and device manufacturers. 

Women are the disproportionate victims of faulty medical devices. They’re also more likely to be misdiagnosed. Following a heart attack, women are 50% more likely than men to receive an incorrect diagnosis, and 33% more likely following a stroke. Until as recent as the 1980s, “hysteria” was considered a legitimate psychological condition in female psych patients. Not to mention, even when actively pursuing a diagnosis, women have to wait longer than men to find the root cause of their problem. 

In many cases, that extra time translates to far worse outcomes than the same condition in men. More insidious still, Black and hispanic women have even lower successful treatment rates and face higher percentages of injury and death than white women facing the same circumstances. 

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If women don’t succumb to the imbalances they face in the medical system, then they only suffer disproportionately instead. 70% of those with chronic pain disorders are women. In the ER, women are made to wait an average of nearly twenty minutes longer than men to receive relief for abdominal pain. 

In general, women are just not taken seriously when it comes to medicine, pain, or their own bodies. 

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The future of the gender gap in medicine

Activist and author Caroline Criado Perez points out that the gender data gap, or the information we hold about men versus the information we’ve collected about women, is extremely wide. In the medical world, that means that new algorithms and artificial intelligence designed to assist doctors and patients in treating and managing disorders are doomed to failure before they even begin. 

While medicine becomes more advanced, the baseline flaws remain. And leaving out half of the human population is a pretty big flaw. 

With the complete monolithic challenges that a patriarchal model of medicine presents, perhaps it isn’t surprising that a concerning number of women can’t name the parts of their own anatomy. And considering the advances in medical technology that are poised to leave women even further behind, we’re looking at a future where 50% of patients are treated with demonstrably lesser care while we continue to amass overwhelming evidence in the form of misdiagnosis and death. 

So should you be worried about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine? Not as much as we should worry about routine medical care for women in our current system.

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Kevin Lankes, MFA, is an editor and author. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Here Comes Everyone, Pigeon Pages, Owl Hollow Press, The Huffington Post, The Riverdale Press, and more.