A study based on data collected from more than half a million children has concluded that those who follow the recommended vaccine schedule are not more likely than others to develop type 1 diabetes. It comes as welcome information in this frightful COVID-19 moment, when vaccines are much in the news.
The authors of the report, which appeared in the journal Pediatrics, said that although previous studies have shown that individual vaccines don’t cause type 1 diabetes, no single study has investigated any possible relationship between the entire childhood vaccine schedule and diabetes, which consequently became the focus of their research. In addition, they were interested in any possible connection between the aluminum that some vaccines contain and the development of diabetes. Rates of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes have been increasing in the last few decades, and this trend has led some observers to conjecture that vaccines might be at least partially responsible. Since 2006, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has been recommending eight different vaccines for children under 2 years old. The CDC has not yet advised COVID vaccines for children under 5, but has recommended the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children 5 and up.
To get cutting-edge diabetes news, strategies for blood glucose management, nutrition tips, healthy recipes, and more delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our free newsletters!
Some vaccines can contain up to 0.85 mg (milligrams) of aluminum, and the entire vaccination schedule can expose a child to as much as 6 mg of aluminum, although in the new study the average exposure was 4.11 mg. Why is aluminum in vaccines? According to the CDC, “Aluminum-containing adjuvants are vaccine ingredients that have been used in vaccines since the 1930s. Small amounts of aluminum are added to help the body build stronger immunity against the germ in the vaccine. Aluminum is one of the most common metals found in nature and is present in air, food, and water. Scientific research has shown the amount of aluminum exposure in people who follow the recommended vaccine schedule is low and is not readily absorbed by the body.” Aluminum is also used in deodorants, antacids, cosmetics, buffered aspirin, and other consumer products. The Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccines, however, do not contain aluminum.
The authors conducted a retrospective study of 584,171 children born between 2004 and 2014 who were in eight health care organizations that participate in the Vaccine Safety Datalink, a collaboration between the CDC and several health care organizations that monitors vaccine safety and studies “rare and serious adverse events following immunization.” The researchers looked especially at three things: how many days the children spent in what’s known as ADU (average days unvaccinated), the average time the children were exposed to an antigen (an antigen is a substance that provokes an immune response from the body), and the cumulative aluminum exposure. They also adjusted the data to take into account possible influencing factors, such as sex, race and ethnicity, birth year, mother’s age, birth weight, and the length of the pregnancy. Among the children in the study, the researchers identified 1,132 who went on to develop type 1 diabetes, a ratio of about 25 cases per 100,000 — a ratio that, according to the CDC, is about the same as the rate of type 1 diabetes in American children in general (22 per 100,000).
The researchers did not find any relationship between cumulative antigen exposure or ADU and type 1 diabetes. They did, however, uncover a relationship between aluminum exposure and type 1 diabetes — exposure to an amount of aluminum greater than 3 mg was associated with a lower risk of type 1 diabetes. That finding came as a surprise, to say the least. The researchers were unable to offer an explanation other than to say, “The observed negative association between cumulative vaccine aluminum exposure and [type 1 diabetes] was an unanticipated result and should be examined with future research.”
The researchers’ conclusion was succinct but reassuring: “The recommended schedule is not positively associated with the incidence of [type 1 diabetes] in children. These results support the safety of the recommended childhood immunization schedule.”