What’s the connection between PFAS and vaccines?

We’ve only recently begun to discover the impact of PFAS on our health. And while there’s still a lot of research to be done to determine how these chemicals impact us, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease registry (part of the CDC) notes that “exposure to high levels of PFAS may impact the immune system.”[1]

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One area of interest is the connection between PFAS and vaccine efficacy - basically, how exposure to PFAS impacts how well a vaccine works in your body to make antibodies and provide protection against disease.

So what’s the connection between vaccines and PFAS exposure – and what can you do about it? Let’s break down the science and find out.

PFAS and your immune system

One of the first studies to ever establish a connection between the immune system and PFAS chemicals was conducted in 2008. The study, which examined mice, found that exposure to PFOS (one group of chemicals that were formerly used in stain resistant fabrics, fire-fighting foams, food packaging, and industrial processes) could potentially suppress the immune system. [2]

While we still don’t know exactly how PFAS chemicals do this, the science shows that this effect occurs in both children and adults.

PFAS and vaccines in infants and children

Several studies have established a link between PFAS exposure and lowered vaccine efficacy in children. A recent literature review of 42 studies found that PFAS exposure was connected to immunosuppression in children, along with lowered antibody responses after receiving vaccines. [3]

One 2013 study published in the Journal of Immunotoxicology found that higher concentrations of PFOA, PFNA, PFHxS, and PFOS (all types of PFAS chemicals) in mothers’ blood were associated with decreased antibody levels to the rubella vaccine in children who were three years old. [4] This group of chemicals commonly came from the following sources:

  • PFOA - some foods, drinking water, household dust
  • PFNA - non-stick products, stain repellent, and chemically inert coatings
  • PFHxS - fire-fighting foams, metal plating, cleaning, waxing, and polishing products, and protective coatings for carpets, paper, textiles, and leather

Another 2017 study found that prenatal exposure to PFAS led to lower antibody levels from vaccines in infants between the ages of 18 months to 5 years old. [5] The study, published in the Journal of Immunotoxicology, found that higher levels of PFAS exposure led to lower levels of antibodies from the tetanus and diphtheria vaccines.

PFAS and vaccines in adults

Adults’ vaccine efficacy can also be impacted by PFAS exposure. One study of 411 adults who were exposed to PFOA and PFOS (which are different categories of PFAS) found that higher levels of these chemicals in the blood were associated with lower levels of antibodies against influenza. [6] Another small study of 12 adults found that higher PFAS concentrations were associated with lower levels of antibodies produced after tetanus and diphtheria booster vaccines. [7]

However, more research is needed to determine exactly how and why this happens, as well as how specific PFAS affect your immune system. Researchers are also seeking to learn more about the impact of multiple PFAS chemicals and how those interactions could further affect antibody levels from vaccines in your body.

PFAS and the COVID-19 vaccine

While we don’t yet know the impact of PFAS on COVID-19 vaccine efficacy, studies have found that PFAS exposure could be linked to more severe cases of COVID-19. A 2020 study of 323 people who had a known SARS-CoV-2 infection found that higher levels of exposure to a particular PFAS called perfluorobutanoic acid (PFBA) was associated with a more severe case of COVID-19. [8]

What can you do to take action?

While scientists are still working to determine PFAS health effects, it’s important to know about whether your own environment is causing you to be exposed to PFAS chemicals. With an at-home PFAS exposure blood test, you can understand your levels of exposure of 47 different PFAS chemicals and get the answers you need.

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Sources [1] “PFAS.” Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8 Dec. 2020, www.atsdr.cdc.gov/2019ATSDRAnnualReport/stories/pfas.html.
[2] Peden-Adams, Margie M., et al. “Suppression of Humoral Immunity in Mice Following Exposure to Perfluorooctane Sulfonate.” Toxicological Sciences, vol. 104, no. 1, 20 July 2008, pp. 144–154., doi:10.1093/toxsci/kfn059.
[3] Von Holst, Haley, et al. “Perfluoroalkyl Substances Exposure and Immunity, Allergic Response, Infection, and Asthma in Children: Review of Epidemiologic Studies.” Heliyon, vol. 7, no. 10, Oct. 2021, doi:10.1016/j.heliyon.2021.e08160.
[4] Granum, Berit, et al. “Pre-Natal Exposure to Perfluoroalkyl Substances May Be Associated with Altered Vaccine Antibody Levels and Immune-Related Health Outcomes in Early Childhood.” Journal of Immunotoxicology, vol. 10, no. 4, 25 Jan. 2013, pp. 373–379., doi:10.3109/1547691x.2012.755580.
[5] Grandjean, P, et al. “Severity of COVID-19 at Elevated Exposure to Perfluorinated Alkylates.” PLOS One, 26 Dec. 2020, doi:10.1101/2020.10.22.20217562.
[6] Looker, Claire, et al. “Influenza Vaccine Response in Adults Exposed to Perfluorooctanoate and Perfluorooctanesulfonate.” Toxicological Sciences, vol. 138, no. 1, 27 Mar. 2013, pp. 76–88., doi:10.1093/toxsci/kft269.
[7] Kielsen, Katrine, et al. “Antibody Response to Booster Vaccination with Tetanus and Diphtheria in Adults Exposed to Perfluorinated Alkylates.” Journal of Immunotoxicology, vol. 13, no. 2, 16 July 2015, pp. 270–273., doi:10.3109/1547691x.2015.1067259.
[8] Grandjean, Philippe, et al. “Estimated Exposures to Perfluorinated Compounds in Infancy Predict Attenuated Vaccine Antibody Concentrations at Age 5-Years.” Journal of Immunotoxicology, vol. 14, no. 1, 1 Dec. 2017, pp. 188–195., doi:10.1080/1547691x.2017.1360968.