The Trump administration expanded COVID-19 vaccine eligibility recommendations to include anyone over the age of 65 on Tuesday, but experts warn that without strategies to ensure women frontline workers are immunized, progress could be stalled.
US states might run into roadblocks when trying to vaccinate women who are non-health care frontline workers, according to the nonprofit news organization The 19th. Structural and logistical barriers may prevent women who work in grocery stores, retail, education, and child care from getting the vaccine.
Nearly two-thirds of frontline workers are women, and accommodations for hourly workers are imperative to immunization efforts in women-dominated industries. Transportation to vaccination sites for low-income women and child care for mothers can make all the difference.
“It’s at the intersection of gender and income advantage and the differentials in transportation and ways of life, that differentiate literally between better-off neighborhoods and further-off ones,” Ruth Faden, a bioethicist at Johns Hopkins University, told The 19th.
Paid time off for women who come down with minor symptoms after the second vaccine injection and vaccination appointments during non-work hours are also necessary.
Considerations for hourly frontline workers should not be an afterthought, according to Helen Keipp Talbot, an infectious diseases associate professor at Vanderbilt University and a member of the Federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
Experts predict that if low-income women, who are more likely to be exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace, cannot get the vaccine, the country will not reach vaccination rate targets and it could threaten herd immunity. Immunization rates are already slower than intended and only a third of all distributed vaccines have been used.
“If people are not given the tools and ability to make vaccination work for them, then any challenge they already face — particularly child care — will be a barrier,” Jennifer Kates, a senior vice president and global health expert at the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, told The 19th.
It remains unclear which states are considering the logistical challenges of getting vaccines to frontline workers and it will be complicated to reach women in those industries regardless of the approach.
Many women told The 19th they agree that vaccine rollouts taking child care, transportation, and paid time off into account are crucial. For employees at a grocery store in Portland, transportation to vaccination sites is a major issue as many don’t have cars. With few substitutes to rely on, teachers in Philadelphia worry about not being able to leave work to get the vaccine.
What’s more, misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine causing infertility could impact women’s decisions to get an injection. The combination of anti-vax messaging and logistical obstacles are a serious concern, Faden explained.