Video: Do Vaccines Overwhelm the Infant Immune System?

June 5, 2013 Karie Youngdahl

Courtesy AcademicEarthAcademicEarth, an educational video and online course provider, has just produced a video for its collection of video electives-–standalone videos that illustrate interesting concepts across a variety of disciplines.

In the video Too Many Too Soon: The Anti-Vaccine Fallacy, they take on the argument often made by vaccine objectors that receiving multiple vaccines at one time is harmful to a baby or child.

The narrator estimates the total antigen exposure to age 18 and then compares that figure with antigen exposure via vaccination to age 6:

“We cannot say with absolute certainty how many antigens the average human is exposed to by age 18, but let’s say, as an argument, that you’ve had most of your antigen exposure by that age. Assuming total exposure is around 1 million antigens, this equals 152 unique exposures per day. Under this conservative estimate, by age 6, the vaccine exposure would account for .006% of the total antigen exposure of the child.”

They conclude by noting that worrying about the number of antigens in the vaccination schedule is like worrying about getting doused by a thimbleful of water when you’re swimming in the ocean. That might be inaccurate, mathematically if not metaphorically speaking, but their message is that the number of the antigens in vaccines do not overwhelm a normal developing immune system,

Our advisor Paul A. Offit, MD, has addressed this concern about “immune system overload” before. In a kind of thought experiment he worked out in a 2002 Pediatrics article, he estimated that a child’s immune system could theoretically respond to the antigens in 10,000 or more vaccines at once. He made clear this was a theoretical position based solely on immune cell potential. (Giving 10,000 vaccines at once would be harmful in many ways: just the amount of water in that number of vaccines would cause death.) Offit has since been taken to task for this statement on anti-vaccine sites like Age of Autism, where commentors often claim that he advocates that many shots at once, or by others volunteering to give him that many shots. (This Facebook page description reads “Dr Paul Offit … has stated that healthy infants can receive 10,000 vaccines at once. Shall we try this on him first?” In 2012, the anti-vaccine band the Refusers posted an April Fool’s fantasy about Offit receiving 10,000 vaccines, needing medical care, and recanting his pro-vaccine position.)

We’re glad to see Academic Earth enter the conversation about vaccines – perhaps they’ll produce a few more videos on the topic. In the meantime, we can watch Vincent Racaniello's virology lectures on their site.

Reference

Offit, Paul et al. 2002. Addressing Parents’ Concerns: Do Multiple Vaccines Overwhelm or Weaken the Infant’s Immune System? Pediatrics. 2002 Jan;109(1):124-9. PMID:11773551

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