News / Health

Study Shows PFCs Can Reduce Vaccine Effectiveness

Vidushi Sinha

A new study finds that children exposed to common industrial chemicals, called perfluorinated compounds or PFCs, have a reduced immune response to vaccines intended to protect them from disease. PFCs are used around the world to make waterproof rain gear and food containers, and are known to pollute drinking water and seafood. PFC contamination could have a significant impact on the effectiveness of global immunization efforts.

When children are vaccinated their immune systems produce antibodies that protect them from debilitating and potentially deadly childhood infections, such as polio, measles, diphtheria and tetanus. The protection is supposed to last a lifetime.

But scientists say the effectiveness of these vaccines is severely reduced when children are exposed to high levels of PFCs:

“This was quite serious because we could also see some of the children were so low in antibody concentration that they were essentially not protected. They have been vaccinated four times and vaccines had not worked,” said Dr. Phillipe Grandjean of the Harvard School of Public Health.

Grandjean led a team of scientists in a study of children living on the Faroe Islands between Scotland and Iceland.

The islanders were chosen as subjects because their diet is mainly seafood, known to have high concentrations of PFCs.

The scientists followed a group of more than 500 children who'd been vaccinated against diphtheria and tetanus. But children who showed elevated levels of PFCs in their blood also had very low concentrations of antibodies against these infections.

“It was quite a striking fact, one that I would not have anticipated,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, which promotes vaccine development and delivery around the world.        

Hotez said if PFCs do, in fact, interfere with antibodies and immune system functions, then the public health problem is going to be much worse in the urban slums of low- and middle-income countries, where exposure to these industrial chemicals can be much higher.

“Even a modest reduction in vaccine coverage and vaccine immune responses could lead to subsequent outbreaks of childhood disease.  And there is a risk that we could see recurrences of childhood killers such as diphtheria or pertussis or other childhood diseases now becoming more common in the world’s poorest countries,” said Hotez.

Scientists say PFCs are stable and persistent chemicals that have been in wide use for decades - so much so that everyone probably has detectable levels of the compounds in their body.

“We have not done enough in regard to protecting the population against these old compounds, and now we are stuck because we all have them in our bodies and we are all using them,” said Grandjean.

Critics note that since the study was done on island residents eating a mostly fish diet, it should have taken into account polyunsaturated fatty acids [PUFAs], which are found in fish and may suppress the immune system.

Researchers say there is an urgent need to study the adverse health effects of perfluorinated compounds on larger populations.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

You May Like

Pakistan Among Developing Countries Hit Hard by Global Warming

Pakistani officials hope developed nations agree to scale back emissions, offer help in dealing with climate change

Video Speed, Social Media Shape Counterterrorism Probes

Speed is critical in effort to prevent subsequent attacks; demographics of extremists lend themselves to communicating, establishing profiles on digital platforms

Islamic State Oil Trade Seduces Friends, Foes Alike

Terrorist group rakes in up to $500 million a year in sales to customers such as Syrian government, US-supported rebels and Turkey

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigationsi
Katherine Gypson
December 01, 2015 10:06 PM
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigations

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Russia Marks World AIDS Day With Grim News

While HIV infection rates have steadied or even declined in many European countries, the caseload has grown rapidly in Russia, as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow. Over half of the new infections were transmitted through injection drug use.

Video Pakistan Hit Hard by Global Warming

As world leaders meet in Paris to craft a new global agreement aimed at cutting climate-changing greenhouse-gas emissions, many developing countries are watching closely for the final results. While most developing nations contribute much less to global warming than developed countries, they often feel the effects to a disproportionate degree. As Saud Zafar reports from Karachi, one such nation is Pakistan. Aisha Khalid narrates his report.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

VOA Blogs