PFAS chemicals found in many consumer products could reduce effectiveness of vaccines and other COVID treatments

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Small amounts of per- and polyfluoroalkyl (or PFAS) chemicals are commonly found in the bodies of people in the US, as well as several other countries. These man-made chemicals, used in everything from non-stick pans to waterproof clothes to pizza boxes, have been linked to an elevated risk of liver damage, decreased fertility and even cancer.

But scientists warn some of these chemicals can also cause another little-known but potentially significant defect by reducing the effectiveness of certain administered vaccines. This impediment could cast a shadow over efforts to roll out a Covid-19 vaccine to enough people that restrictions on day-to-day life are eased.

“At this stage we don’t know if it will impact a corona vaccination, but it’s a risk,” said Philippe Grandjean, an adjunct professor of environmental health at the Harvard School of Public Health. “We would have to cross our fingers and hope for the best.”

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“People with high exposure to PFAS have a non-protective and very low antibody levels after four vaccinations for diphtheria and tetanus,” Grandjean said. “So if a vaccine for Covid is similar, the PFAS will likely inhibit the response from a vaccine. But it is an unknown at this stage.”

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