In the U.S., food allergies are widespread and are the most common cause of anaphylaxis in children. One in 13 American children—about two per classroom—has at least one food allergy, and food allergies increased by 50% from 1997 to 2011. An analysis of New York City school system data showed that the incidence of epinephrine administration for severe food allergy increased threefold from 2007 to 2013. Likewise, an escalating number of children have been hospitalized for food allergies or have visited an emergency department for primarily food-related anaphylaxis over the past couple of decades. Similar trends are playing out all over the world.
As each new decade ushers in higher childhood allergy rates, researchers mostly have scratched their heads, citing the poorly operationalized “hygiene hypothesis” or feebly asserting that the reasons for the increase remain “unclear.” A few investigators have pointed to possible risk factors such as cesarean delivery and novel food technologies. However, given that the hallmark of allergic disease is an altered immune response, it stands to reason that vaccines— which purposefully set out to “reprogram immunity”—are major contenders as allergy triggers.
A perfect storm
In her 2011 book, The Peanut Allergy Epidemic, Heather Fraser assembles persuasive scientific and historical evidence that lays the blame for the mass peanut allergy phenomenon (and the steep rise in childhood allergies of all types) on the “extensive and sudden” changes made to childhood vaccine programs in the U.S. and elsewhere in the late 1980s. According to Fraser, a series of critical factors synergistically converged during this time period to create a perfect storm and launch the allergy and chronic illness epidemics that have been ongoing ever since. These factors include:
Abrupt and massive expansion of the childhood vaccine schedule: In the U.S., the schedule went from three recommended vaccines in the mid-1980s to fifteen different vaccines currently.
Initiation of vaccination on the day of birth: This includes both the hepatitis B vaccine and synthetic vitamin K injection.
Changes in vaccine technology: Changes include production of recombinant (genetically engineered) vaccines and conjugate vaccines (which couple a weak vaccine antigen to a protein carrier), both of which actively go after “immunologic memory” and non-antibody immune response.
Vastly increased use of aluminum adjuvants, which stimulate a stronger immune response that can easily veer into the realm of “immune dysregulation.”
Increased vaccine coverage: Only about half of American two-year-olds in the late 1980s had completed their recommended series of vaccines, but a decade later, about nine in ten 19-35-month-olds were receiving all or most recommended vaccines.
…vaccinated children had a significantly greater odds of having a diagnosed allergic condition compared to unvaccinated children
A study conducted in 2012 and published in 2017 in the Journal of Translational Science compared chronic health problems in vaccinated and unvaccinated 6-to-12-year-olds—in other words, children born between 2000 and 2006. The results lend credence to Fraser’s thinking about vaccination and allergy trends. Among many striking results, the authors found that vaccinated children had a significantly greater odds of having a diagnosed allergic condition compared to unvaccinated children: 10.4% versus 0.4% for allergic rhinitis, 22.2% versus 6.9% for “other” allergies and 9.5% versus 3.6% for eczema and other forms of atopic dermatitis. Other studies also have linked vaccines to atopic conditions and allergic sensitization.