CDC Says Mothers Shouldn’t Breastfeed to Make Vaccines More Effective – Fiction!
Summary of eRumor:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised young mothers to delay breastfeeding because studies show that it could make vaccines less effective for their babies.
This claim is false.
A number of blog sites have cited a 2010 study titled, “The Inhibitory Effect of Breast Milk on Inactivity of Live Oral Rotavirus Vaccines,” in making this claim. The study explored why vaccines are less effective among children in poor, developing countries than in middle income and industrialized countries. According to the study’s abstract:
The lower immunogenicity and efficacy of rotavirus vaccines in poor developing countries could be explained, in part, by higher titers of IgA and neutralizing activity in breast milk consumed by their infants at the time of immunization that could effectively reduce the potency of the vaccine. Strategies to overcome this negative effect, such as delaying breastfeeding at the time of immunization, should be evaluated.
Researchers from the CDC did participate in the study, as the eRumor claimed. But the study does not suggest that women in the U.S. should delay breastfeeding. It suggests that delayed breastfeeding “should be evaluated” in developing countries at the time of the child’s vaccination.
In the U.S, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) working group suggests that young mothers forgo immunizations — not breastfeeding — to avoid complications in their children:
Precaution: A condition in a recipient that might increase the risk for a serious adverse reaction or that might compromise the ability of the vaccine to produce immunity. Under usual circumstances, vaccination should be deferred. However, vaccination might be indicated because benefits outweigh risks.
In the context of pregnancy and breastfeeding, serious adverse reaction includes maternal, fetal or neonatal serious adverse events linked to the vaccine. Contraindication means that there is direct evidence or strong biologic plausibility and suggestive evidence that the risk of severe adverse event is elevated for at least one of these groups. Precaution means there is no supporting evidence but there is some biologic plausibility; precaution may also mean that there is a lack of data to support safety.
One of the most highly effective preventive measures a mother can take to protect the health of her infant is to breastfeed. However, in the United States, although most mothers hope to breastfeed, and 79% of babies start out being breastfed, only 19% are exclusively breastfed 6 months later. Additionally, rates are significantly lower for African-American infants.
The success rate among mothers who want to breastfeed can be greatly improved through active support from their families, friends, communities, clinicians, health care leaders, employers, and policymakers. Given the importance of breastfeeding for the health and wellbeing of mothers and children, it is critical that we take action across the country to support breastfeeding.
And “deferred breastfeeding” is a very small portion of global efforts to increase the effectiveness of vaccines in developing countries. One of the biggest hurdles is that vaccines must be kept cold to remain effective, yet children live in remote areas with limited access to electricity and refrigeration, so vaccines often spoil, the humanitarian group Deutsche Welle reports:
Health workers have to keep vaccines cool at all times – from the moment of their production until they are administered by injection or in other ways.
“This is one of the reasons why we’re still unable to vaccinate many children against diseases, which have been wiped out in developed countries – polio, for example,” says Sebastian Dietrich, a physician working with Doctors without Borders. “We just can’t get the vaccines to very remote areas while keeping them cool.”
When Doctors Without Borders vaccinates people in developing countries, they face serious challenges, says Dietrich.
Most sensitive vaccines solutions become unusable as soon as their temperature rises above eight degrees Celsius.
Dietrich and his colleagues have to get the vaccines through customs before they go bad, and they have to find storage rooms with good refrigeration, or transport the vaccines by car to remote areas, where there may not even be electricity.
Deutsche Welle concludes that developing nanovaccines that don’t need refrigeration is the key to increasing effectiveness — not delayed breastfeeding.
Ten researchers from the CDC’s National Centers for Immunization and Respiratory Disease (NCIRD) released a paper arguing that because the immune-boosting effects of breastmilk inhibit the effects of the live oral rotavirus vaccine, nursing mothers should delay breastfeeding their infants.
This, dear readers, is the kind of convoluted logic that permeates the pharmaceutical industry. To be fair, the paper does not recommend that mothers stop breastfeeding, merely that they delay nursing at the time that the vaccine is administered. It also says that other avenues for boosting the vaccine’s efficacy should be explored.
Honestly, I don’t care how nuanced their recommendation is. Do they not realize what they have stumbled upon? In demonstrating that breastmilk counters the live vaccine, they’ve shown that breastmilk counters the virus.
A live vaccine contains a weakened form of the virus that causes the disease. The idea is that by presenting the weakened virus to your body, your immune system will develop an immune response to the virus sufficient to help you fight off a more virulent attack of the virus later. In other words, when your body is fighting off the live virus, it is effectively fighting off the virus itself, just in smaller quantities.
If breastmilk’s immune-boosting properties fight-off the live vaccine, then that means that breastmilk is fighting off the virus itself (just in smaller quantities).
Yet instead of recommending that the best way to fight this disease in infants is to encourage mothers to breastfeed, they’re recommending that mothers refrain from breastfeeding so that the vaccine can work!
I’m troubled by the underlying assumptions these researchers are making. They’re assuming, for example, that the vaccine should be used regardless of its efficacy. They’re assuming that the vaccine is better for the baby than breastfeeding. They’re assuming that the vaccine is safe.
Or, perhaps they’re not assuming any of those things. They are single-minded scientists after all. Their sole goal in this paper seems to simply be to measure the inhibitory effects of breast milk on the vaccine. They compared the breastmilk from mothers in India, South Korea, Vietnam, and the U.S. Indian mothers had the most potent breastmilk in fighting the vaccine, while U.S. moms had the weakest.