Common chemicals threaten childhood vaccines

Be careful about those microwave popcorn bags. They may threaten the viability of children's vaccinations.

More precisely, the Harvard School of Public Health's Philippe Grandjean thinks children exposed to perfluorinated compounds may not respond as well to vaccines versus kids without the exposure. Even worse, that exposure may work its damage before the child is even born, Grandjean's research concludes.

As a USA Today story on the finding somberly points out, the chemical is in many, many things, from some non-stick cookware to paper plates to stain-resistant coatings on fabric. The ubiquitous chemical is even used in microwave popcorn bags.

Grandjean and his team gauged exposure to the chemical in two phases involving 587 children in Denmark, where lots of folks eat seafood, a big source of PFC contamination. The team took blood samples from the mothers during pregnancy and the kids at ages 5 and 8. About 26% of the children set to receive a booster shot at age 5 didn't have enough antibodies to protect them from tetanus, USA Today recounts. Diptheria also became a risk for 37% of the children at that stage, because the vaccinations didn't give them enough protection. (Booster shots helped.) Children with the biggest exposure to the perfluorinated compounds before birth generated the lowest levels of antibody protection.

Some perspective: The study, which is detailed in the new Journal of the American Medical Association, does not definitively prove the PFC connection to childhood vaccine response. Grandjean even admits as much, according to the article. And some PFC chemicals have been phased out of production in the U.S. The group will have to pursue further research to determine if other factors--such as genetically inherited immune system problems--caused the poor vaccine response, USA Today notes.

- read the USA Today story
- check out the JAMA journal abstract

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