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Gender differences in H1N1 vaccine response?

male female on stairs nataliejohnson.JPGAn op-ed piece in the New York Times this morning caught my eye. The authors, two women with strong backgrounds in public and women's health and microbiology and immunology, suggest that women could be given lower doses of the vaccine for the H1N1 pandemic virus. Reducing the dose given to women would allow the current less-than-expected vaccine supply to treat more people.

Although I bristled at first at the idea of allotting less vaccine to women simply on the basis of gender, the article references several studies indicating that women mount a stronger immune response than men to viral vaccines. It's not clear why this is, but exploiting this difference could significantly impact public health, not just in this country but also in less-developed countries unable to make their own vaccine. The authors contend that stretching the available vaccine in this way could save millions of lives. Personally, I'm willing to make that trade-off.

Despite the author's suggestion, it seems unlikely that such a drastic change in vaccine dosage will occur any time soon. I'd like to see more studies about this and other gender-related health differences in the future, though, so we can better manage our available resources. In the meantime, women shouldn't be alarmed about getting a vaccination that's larger than may necessary, say the authors. Pregnant women in particular, who are much more likely than other segments of the population to be hospitalized with H1N1 symptoms, should get the novel H1N1 vaccination as soon as possible, regardless of the dose.

Photo by nataliej

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