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Your Environment. Your Health.

PFAS Exposure in Infancy Linked to Reduced Vaccine Response

Philippe Grandjean, Ph.D.
Harvard School of Public Health

An NIEHS-funded study linked perfluorinated alkylate substance (PFAS) exposure during infancy to decreased immune response to vaccinations at age 5 years. This study extended previous findings that PFAS exposure may interfere with the effectiveness of some childhood vaccinations and provided new evidence that children may be the most vulnerable during their first 6 months.

The research team studied children in the Faroe Islands, which lie halfway between Scotland and Iceland. The Faroese have PFAS levels similar to those of U.S. residents. PFAS concentrations were measured in the children’s blood at birth, at 18 months, and at 5 years. Because PFASs can be transferred to babies through breast milk, PFAS exposure in infancy was estimated from the PFAS exposure level at birth and the duration of exclusive breastfeeding.

In this study, the antibody response to tetanus and diphtheria vaccines was weaker in 5 year olds who had the highest PFAS exposure levels between ages 3 and 6 months. The researchers found that tetanus antibody concentrations at age 5 years were decreased by 19 to 29 percent with each doubling of PFAS exposure in early infancy.

The researchers observed associations between reduced immune response to the two vaccinations and increased PFAS concentrations at age 18 months and 5 years, but the associations were stronger between ages 3 and 6 months. According to the authors, these findings supported the notion that the developing adaptive immune system is particularly vulnerable to immunotoxicity during infancy, and PFAS exposure might prevent children from developing the normal immune response to some vaccinations.

Citation: Grandjean P, Heilmann C, Weihe P, Nielsen F, Mogensen UB, Timmermann A, Budtz-Jørgensen E. 2017. Estimated exposures to perfluorinated compounds in infancy predict attenuated vaccine antibody concentrations at age 5-years. J Immunotoxicol. 14(1):188–195.

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