Despite unfounded fears about the side effects of vaccines, the early vaccination of children is not linked to a recent increase in the number of celiac disease diagnoses, says a new study published in the July 2012 issue of the journal Pediatrics.
Celiac disease is a condition in which the lining of the small intestine become damaged due to a reaction to eating gluten. The damage prevents the intestines from absorbing parts of food required for good health, often resulting in malnutrition. Celiac disease affects approximately 0.5 percent to 2.0 percent of the general population.
According to PubMed Health, no cure exists for celiac disease, but the condition can be managed with a lifelong gluten-free diet. Exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first three months of life may decrease the risk for celiac disease by not exposing an infant’s gut to gluten prematurely.
Between the years of 1984 to 1996, the country of Sweden experienced an epidemic of celiac disease among infants. One hypothesis for the increase in the number of children diagnosed with the disease was early vaccination.
In the present study, “Early Vaccinations Are Not Risk Factors for Celiac Disease” as conducted by researchers at the Departments of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Epidemiology, and Global Health, the researchers sought to determine if changes in the national Swedish vaccination program coincided with the incidence rate of celiac disease diagnoses at the beginning and at the end of the Swedish celiac disease epidemic. The researchers also sought to assess a link between celiac disease and early vaccination.
To determine a link, if any, between early vaccination and celiac disease, the researchers analyzed data from the National Swedish Childhood Celiac Disease Register. All of the children identified for the study were less than two years old. The children who were vaccinated prior to being diagnosed with celiac disease were considered vaccinated; the children who were not vaccinated or who were vaccinated after being diagnosed with celiac disease were considered unvaccinated.
The researchers examined six vaccines: diphtheria/tetanus, pertussis, polio, Haemophilus inﬂuenzae type b, measles/mumps/rubella, and live attenuated bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) in children with increased tuberculosis risk.
The results of the study indicate that three of the vaccines (pertussiss, Haemophilus inﬂuenzae type b, and measles/mumps/rubella) were not associated with celiac disease because the changes to those vaccination programs did not coincide with the celiac disease epidemic. Two other vaccines (diphtheria/tetanus, polio) were also not associated with celiac disease because neither vaccine program had undergone changes.
More surprisingly, the study indicated that the BCG vaccine was at least as efficient as breastfeeding in decreasing the risk of celiac disease, that is, vaccination about tuberculosis may decrease the risk of celiac disease.
Thus, the researchers concluded that the celiac disease epidemic in Sweden was not linked to changes in the Swedish vaccination program. In other words, vaccines do not cause celiac disease.
In response to parents who still question the safety of childhood vaccinations, Anna Myléus, PhD, MD, one of the authors of the study, states:
“Our study investigated the possible association between childhood vaccinations and celiac disease, and one important message to parents is that, with respect to this disease, vaccinations were not risk factors.
Vaccinations are preventive and are consequently recommended and given to healthy children. Therefore it is important that the vaccines are safe, both regarding effectivity and adverse reactions. As we today do not experience the diseases the vaccinations protect against focus shifts towards the adverse effects. Our findings reinforces vaccine safety regarding one chronic autoimmune disease – celiac disease.”
Additional studies need to be conducted on the protective effects of the BCG vaccine against celiac disease.
Do you think that the research that debunks the link between celiac disease and early vaccines will have a positive impact on vaccination rates?