COVID, Sex Discrimination, and Medical Research

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With the striking difference in mortality rates, understanding women’s biological reactions to COVID-19 might actually provide the best bet for a treatment for COVID-19, but the medical research system has traditionally been biased toward research on men. In the project we undertook and report in this Article, we analyzed the burgeoning medical research literature about COVID-19 and found that the historical failure to take women’s symptoms and needs into account continues to this day. Our project also illustrates what the societal costs are of that failure.

Part I of this Article analyzes the history of sex discrimination in medical research. Part II discusses the regulatory attempts in the 1990s to enroll women in more medical studies to rectify the disproportionate focus on men in medical research and why those efforts fell short. It also analyzes recent policies designed to encourage precursor research on female animals and female cells. Part III addresses the differing effects of COVID-19 on men and women. It demonstrates how, in the course of research on COVID-19, women’s symptoms and needs are again being ignored even though understanding women’s response to COVID-19 might hold the key to a treatment. Part IV argues that more stringent regulations are necessary, not just to benefit women, but to benefit us all. It also points out that the context in which medical research is undertaken must be taken into account if we are to vanquish this global pandemic.