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PCBs and Vaccines

September 20, 2006

A common environmental pollutant may stifle the effectiveness of childhood vaccines.


Does pollution handicap vaccines? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Pollutants called PCBs may compromise childhood vaccines. This according to Phillipe Grandjean, of Harvard and the University of Southern Denmark. His team studied the native children of the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic, who eat PCB-contaminated whale blubber. The higher their PCB exposure, the fewer antibodies they produced to tetanus and diphtheria vaccines. Grandjean says that PCBs are also found in many other foods eaten worldwide, including fatty meats, and dairy products.

PHILLIPE GRANDJEAN (Harvard School of Public Health/University of Southern Denmark/):
It has long been a mystery why some children react very poorly to vaccinations, and other children react very strongly, the way we hope they’d all react.

His data suggest that even the average PCB exposure of American children may be high enough to have an effect. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.