Men over 60 are twice as likely to become severely sick and to die as women of the same age even with similar pre-existing conditions. A new study to determine why found a significant clue. The scientists found the women’s bodies produced more so-called T cells. Those cells kill virus-infected cells and stop the infection from spreading. Men showed much weaker activation of T cells. The delay was related to how sick the men became. The older the men, the weaker their T cell responses.
Women produce a stronger immune response to the coronavirus than men. The results are consistent with sex differences following various challenges to the immune system. Women have faster and stronger immune responses. Many researchers conclude their bodies fight pathogens to protect children.
“Natural infection is clearly failing” to spark adequate immune responses in men, said Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University who led the work.
The findings, published in Nature, suggest that men, particularly those over age 60, have a higher risk of death. They may need vaccines to protect against the infection.
“We know that age is proving to be a very important factor in Covid-19 outcomes, and the intersection of age and sex must be explored,” said Sabra Klein, a vaccine expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Still, the new findings are “exciting” because they begin to explain why men fare so much worse with the coronavirus, she added: “The more robust T cell responses in older women could be an important clue to protection and must be explored further.”