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Common household chemicals may interfere with vaccine efficacy

A new study has found that certain chemical compounds may prevent childhood vaccinations from working properly.  The compounds  can lead to lower immune responses to vaccinations, putting children at risk of catching a disease they have already been vaccinated against.  In some cases, children lost the vaccines’ protections by age seven.

Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are commonly uses in products ranging from nonstick pan coatings to microwave popcorn bags. They break down slowly, persisting for years in the environment.  Scientists were already aware that high concentrations of PFCs were toxic for mice’s immune systems and bloodstreams.  But until recently, a parallel in humans had not been studied.

A team of Harvard researchers investigated whether PFC exposure would interfere with children’s antibody responses to tetanus and diphtheria vaccines.  They chose a group of children living in the Faroe Islands, because previous studies revealed that who frequently eat seafood may have increased exposure to PFCs.  The study concluded that, the higher the PFC levels in the children’s blood, the lower their response to vaccinations.  When PFC exposure doubled, blood antibody levels dropped by 49% at age seven.  Indeed, CBS reports that “a doubling of a child’s PFC levels corresponded with a child being two to four times more likely to have an immune response considered  too low to be clinically effective.”

The study’s author, Dr. Philippe Grandjean, stated that he and the other researchers “were kind of shocked when we saw those numbers . . . . This is the first study to say that by [exposing children to PFCs], we are screwing up a major aspect of disease prevention in our society. I’ve been in the field for quite a while, and this is a very strong signal.”  Dr. Grandjean added that he doesn’t “feel comfortable with the compounds for myself and my family and would rather eliminate them.”

Eliminating exposure may be easier said than done.  In addition to microwave popcorn bags and nonstick coatings, PFCs are also found in furniture, clothing, cars, and carpeting that have been treated with stain repellants, as well as lubricants used in skis and snowboards.

Further research is needed to understand how PFCs collect in our bodies and what effect they may have on other vaccines.  But one thing is clear: greater efforts should be made to keep harmful chemicals out of the natural environment.