- Two different teams of scientists are trialing hormone therapies like estrogen and progesterone as possible treatments for cisgender male coronavirus patients.
- The trials are aimed to combat the gendered gap in COVID-19 deaths, as men across the world are dying at a higher rate than women.
- Some researchers believe this has to do with the higher amount of hormones like estrogen and progesterone in people assigned female at birth.
- People who rely on these medications, like transgender people and people going through menopause, are worried excitement about these treatments may cause a shortage.
- Some lupus patients who rely on hydroxychloroquine were not able to access the drug after President Trump touted it as a potential treatment for COVID-19.
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Two different teams of scientists are trialing hormone therapies using estrogen and progesterone as possible treatments for male coronavirus patients.
The New York Times reported two teams of medical researchers and doctors – one in Los Angeles and one in Long Island, New York – are racing to see if estrogen or progesterone treatments could help narrow the gender gap in COVID-19 deaths, as men across the world are dying of the virus at a higher rate than women.
Researchers believe the gender gap may be linked to higher levels of certain hormones, like estrogen and progesterone, in people assigned female at birth.
“There’s a striking difference between the number of men and women in the intensive care unit, and men are clearly doing worse,” Dr. Sara Ghandehari, principal investigator for one of the team is LA working on the progesterone study, told the New York Times. “So something about being a woman is protective, and something about pregnancy is protective, and that makes us think about hormones.”
Ghandehari said that while pregnant women are typically considered to be immunocompromised and are at a higher risk when contracting illnesses, pregnant women who contracted the virus have tended to have more mild cases. She said this may be an example of the protective properties of estrogen.
To test how hormones could be helpful against COVID-19, each team is running clinical trials on how estrogen or progesterone impacts COVID-19 patients.
In Long Island, New York, the team at Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University started treating a group of COVID-19 patients – adult men and women over the age of 55 – with estrogen last week. And in Los Angeles, Ghandehari’s team will begin treating male COVID-19 patients with estrogen to see how it impacts their immunity.
If these trials go well, it could be a breakthrough in the fight against COVID-19.
However, like other drugs that have been advertised as possible coronavirus treatments before them, people who rely on these hormones for everyday life like transgender people and people going through menopause are concerned an increase in demand for progesterone and estrogen could lead to a shortage if researchers and officials are not careful.
People who rely on hormone replacement therapy are concerned the push towards this possible treatment may cause a shortage
Estrogen and progesterone have long been life-changing and at times life-saving drugs.
Transgender people have been using estrogen and progesterone for decades to treat gender dysphoria as part of hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Some people who already rely on estrogen and progesterone have expressed concern that if these trials are effective, people may begin to hoard hormones and cause a shortage.
“I am theoretically OK with this, just so long as 1) cis men don’t start hoarding estrogen, 2) they promise not to write any ‘I took estrogen for Covid-19 & now I’m an expert on gender’ op-eds,” Julia Serano, a transgender activist and writer, tweeted in response to the New York Times article.
Other Twitter users raised similar concerns, writing “if even one trans woman loses estrogen access to a cis man, this means war” and “if there is an estrogen shortage due to this i will go full Mad Max Fury Road and kill men for E.”
Another group of Twitter users critiqued how quickly cisgender men were able to get HRT compared to how difficult it is for many transgender people.
“how did they get them so fast? it takes at least half a year (if ur lucky) for trans ppl to have access to hormones bc of “iRrEvErSiBlE cHaNgEs & BlOoDcLoTs!!!!!” but one lul cough and y’all distributing estrogen like it’s halloween candy?”one user tweeted.
I had to go on a three year wait list to see a therapist, only to have to wait another year to find an endocrinologist to start transitioning…
But cis dudes can just get a estrogen prescription?
What ever happened to the "irreversible damage" that these meds cause, huh? ???? https://t.co/MF2xO5SEp8
— Rammy (@RammyOW) April 27, 2020
Concerns over shortages aren’t unfounded. Demand for hydroxychloroquine shot up 1,000% after President Donald Trump backed it as an effective treatment for COVID-19 (despite questions about its effectiveness), leaving some lupus patients who rely on the drug unable to access it.
A shortage of HRT could be especially dangerous to transgender and nonbinary people, as many are already struggling to get access to hormones and having to turn to unregulated grey markets during the pandemic.
Some experts are not entirely convinced it is hormones that protect women against COVID-19
Not all researchers are convinced that hormones protect women from developing more severe cases of COVID-19.
Sabra Klein, a scientist who studies sex differences in viral infections and vaccination responses at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the New York Times that other differences between genders, like how often people wash their hands and how much they typically smoke throughout their lifetime.
“We see this bias across the life course,” Klein said. “Older men are still disproportionately affected, and that suggests to me it’s got to be something genetic, or something else, that’s not just hormonal.”
“Estrogen has immune-modulatory properties – don’t get me wrong,” she continued. “You could get a beneficial effect in both men and women. But if women are better at recovery at 93 years old, I doubt it’s hormones.”