By Gail Johnson, June 21, 2011
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.