Aluminum used in vaccines may be linked to serious health problems, according to a new study by two UBC researchers. But a medical-health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health says the benefits associated with vaccines outweigh the risks.
“Aluminum is well demonstrated as a neurotoxin,” said Chris Shaw, a UBC professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences who cowrote the recently published study Aluminum Vaccine Adjuvants: Are They Safe? with lead author Lucija Tomljenovic. “Yes, these are small amounts, for sure, but what can small amounts do? If a small amount can hyperdrive the immune system, it can do something else, and it appears to contribute to motor-neuron loss.”
Aluminum is the most common adjuvant—a chemical substance used to boost the immune system’s response to a vaccine—and has been used in vaccines for almost 90 years. But in their study, which was published in the journal Current Medicinal Chemistry, Shaw and Tomljenovic contend that medical science’s understanding of the metallic element’s mechanisms of action in the body remains poor. They argue that experimental research shows that aluminum adjuvants have the potential to induce serious autoimmune disorders, long-term brain inflammation, and associated neurological complications.
Furthermore, they say that because the evaluation of pharmacokinetic properties isn’t required for vaccines, evidence is lacking regarding the safety of simultaneous administration of different vaccines to young children whose nervous systems are rapidly developing.
Aluminum exists in Earth’s crust and in countless foods, from pickles to microwave popcorn. But although people are exposed to aluminum through the environment and their diet, Shaw and Tomljenovic counter that there’s a big difference between the way food sources of aluminum are absorbed by and excreted from the body and how vaccine-derived aluminum undergoes the same processes.
Tomljenovic, who recently had a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease on the link between the metallic element and that neurodegenerative condition, said that only very small amounts of aluminum are needed to produce neurotoxicity and that the substance actively crosses the blood-brain barrier.
“The main problem with aluminum is that even regular dietary intake can have long-term adverse consequences to the nervous system,” she told the Georgia Straight. “This has been verified by studies done in rats who were fed the equivalent of what humans take over a lifetime and then exhibited classical Alzheimer’s symptoms. The control rats fed an alum-free diet did not show such adverse outcomes. The reason for this is that aluminum is highly toxic and poorly excreted.
“Even the little that we absorb from food tends to accumulate and persist in a body, especially the brain,” she added. “The situation with vaccines is vastly different because we get much higher amounts from vaccines but that amount is almost 100 percent absorbed because it bypasses the gastrointestinal tract. So injectable aluminum is potentially more toxic than ingestible aluminum.”
Tomljenovic’s study concludes that immediate steps should be taken to lessen human exposure to aluminum, which may be the “single most aggravating and avoidable factor related to Alzheimer’s”.
Other conditions have been linked to aluminum adjuvants in vaccines, Shaw and Tomljenovic say in their study. Macrophagic myofasciitis, a muscle disease first identified in 1993, has been specifically attributed to aluminum adjuvants in recipients of hepatitis A and B and tetanus vaccines.
Meena Dawar, VCH medical-health officer, maintained that vaccines are safe.
“They save countless lives every day,” Dawar said on the line from her office. “A hundred years ago, infectious diseases were the number one cause of death in Canada”¦.In the developed world, we don’t see infectious diseases today thanks to vaccines.”
Dawar said that one reason for opposition to vaccines is that people haven’t witnessed firsthand the effects of diseases like polio, which can cause muscle stiffness and pain, meningitis, and in some cases paralysis or, even rarer, death.
“We don’t see polio in a big way; we don’t see whooping cough or measles in a big way,” she said. “But diseases can come back. Hopefully, polio won’t come back in Canada. These bugs are just a plane ride away.
“Ten infants in California with pertussis died last year,” she said of the serious and contagious yet preventable bacterial illness. “That’s just outrageous.”
Dawar said that the amount of aluminum used in vaccines is minute. “The amount an infant is exposed to at the two-, four-, and six-month shots is the same as what they’d be getting in their diet that day, through breast milk and formula. It’s a drop in the bucket. It’s easily excreted.
“We need to remind people that aluminum is safe and that it’s thanks to aluminum that vaccines work so well”¦.It has stood the test of time.” Shaw and Tomljenovic are continuing their research of aluminum-adjuvant safety, including more investigation into the link between aluminum and autism-spectrum disorders.
“Are aluminum adjuvants as safe as the industry and medical profession says they are? Our conclusion is that they’re not,” Shaw said. “Much more scientific study needs to be conducted.
“We are not telling people not to vaccinate their children; we are not doctors,” he added. “We don’t give recommendations. People have to do what they think is best. But we don’t think we can pretend that adverse reactions don’t happen and that aluminum is not a neurotoxin. We need to examine the issue more carefully.”