No, PFAs don't stop the COVID-19 vaccine from working

As scientists continue to look at the effects of PFAs, also known as "forever chemicals," some people are wondering if they could affect COVID-19 vaccine efficacy.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced a three-year initiative to regulate and restrict the use of PFAs, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances otherwise known as "forever chemicals."

As scientists continue to look at the potential effects PFAs could have on people, some are wondering if they could make the COVID-19 vaccine less effective. 

These chemicals, often end up in our water system and pose a significant risk because they never break down and remain present in the human body. PFAs are found in everyday items like nonstick cookware, paint, makeup, pizza boxes, dental floss, some food and our drinking water. 

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THE QUESTION: 

Do PFAs stop the COVID-19 vaccine from working?

OUR SOURCES:

THE ANSWER:

This is false.

 No, PFAs do not stop the COVID-19 vaccine from working.

WHAT WE FOUND: 

Kohli said the decision to study these chemicals is relatively recent. Despite being around since the 1940s, the CDC didn't start measuring PFAs in people until 1999. Researchers found PFAs in nearly all people who were tested. 

As for how much you'd have to have in your body, that's unknown at this time. 

"That's the million-dollar question," Kohli said. "From animal studies, which tell us it needs to be pretty high does, but we're not entirely sure how that translates into humans."

Robinson agrees, acknowledging more research needs to be done on the amount of exposure for the PFAs to be harmful. 

"We are still trying to determine what that toxic level is but the research right now is encouraging in the sense that it's much higher levels of exposure where we see these effects in animals or other subjects," Robinson said. "The fact is, it looks like our everyday exposure in and of itself — one application of lipstick or using a nonstick pan to cook breakfast — is not likely to cause effects."

According to the EPA, current peer-reviewed, scientific studies have shown that exposure to certain levels of PFAs may lead to certain adverse health effects, including the reduced ability of the body's immune system to fight infections, including reduced vaccine response.

"PFAs can increase your risk of infection and the way that your body responds to infection," Kohli said. "So if anything, being exposed to PFAs may make you a higher risk for infection from COVID-19."

Kohli said because basically everyone has PFAs in their body already, it's a sign that they aren't stopping the vaccine from working. 

"They still mounted good antibody responses and they still had good clinical protection," she said. "So I think most of us can feel pretty reassured that even though we may be exposed to some levels of PFAs, the vaccine will continue to remain effective for us."

Studies are still being conducted to see how much PFA exposure can lead to health effects. Doctors say to look at the ingredients in your products to see if they have PFAS. You can find some helpful tools here. 

   

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