Air pollution reduces the immune response to covid-19 vaccines. People exposed to higher levels of pollution before the pandemic presented lower antibody responses to coronavirus vaccines, according to a study led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), a center promoted by the La Caixa Foundation, in collaboration with the Germans Trias i Pujol Research Institute (IGTP). The research has just been published in ‘Environmental Health Perspectives’.
“Pollution is associated with many health effects: lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, respiratory infections… And clearly it also has effects on the immune system, because it causes inflammation,” the ISGlobal researcher told EL PERIÓDICO Manolis Kogevinas.
Specifically, the exposure to fine particles (PM 2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and black carbon (soot) was associated with a about 10% decrease in antibody responses IgM and IgG in people without previous infection.
It was already shown that air pollutants affect immune responses, so this study wanted to assess whether air pollution also affects the Antibody production after vaccination against covid-19. The answer is yes.
In the investigation participated 927 people between 40 and 65 years of age, who responded to questionnaires and gave blood samples in the summer of 2020 (just after the first lockdown) and in the spring of 2021 (after the start of vaccination against covid-19). All had received one or two doses of the main vaccines against covid-19 administered in Spain (manufactured by AstraZeneca, Pfizer or Moderna). The research team measured IgM, IgG and IgA antibodies against five viral antigens (three of them in the spike protein contained in the vaccine). The exposure to PM 2.5, soot, NO2 and ozone of each participant was estimated based on their home before the pandemic.
“We have seen that people more exposed to pollution they had up to 10% fewer antibodies,” notes Kogevinas. The results, highlights this researcher, prove that a city like Barcelona, which is not one of those with the highest levels of pollution, should lower them even more. “We see thatNot very high levels of contamination are harmful to health. They have to go down even more. We don’t have to change the vaccination strategy,” says Kogevinas, who chooses to continue implementing immunization but also for taking other long-term measures.
“Air pollution can cause a Chronic inflamation, that has been associated with a negative effect on the efficacy of vaccines”, explains for his part Carlota Dobaño, ISGlobal researcher and last author of the study, together with Cathryn Tonne, also an ISGlobal researcher. “Our findings are consistent with studies showing that persistent organic pollutants reduce the response to vaccines in the child population,” he adds.
The fact that the previous infections favor a greater response to the vaccine could explain why the effect of the contaminants was only seen in people who had not been infected at the time of the study. However, the effect of air pollution on the hybrid immunity (infection plus vaccination) deserves further investigation, warn the authors.
The study did not look at whether the lower response to the vaccine was associated with a increased risk of subsequent infections, or increased severity of these infections. “However, our findings add to the growing body of evidence on the adverse effects of air pollution, even at the relatively low levels seen in Western Europe. They also stress the need for impose stricter limits on air pollution, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO)”, insists tone.
This study is part of Covicat (Covid cohort in Catalonia), an inter-institutional collaborative project between ISGlobal and IGTP to assess the impact of the pandemic on the health of the Catalan population, which is currently celebrating its third follow-up edition.
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