Unfounded worry about gluten in flu vaccine poses risk to public health
By Amy Ratner
Medical and Science News Analyst
People with gluten sensitivity are suspicious of the safety of vaccines, indicating in a recent study that they believe vaccines contain gluten.
This belief was more widely held among gluten sensitive patients than celiac disease patients, 41 percent compared to 26 percent, results of a survey by Columbia University researchers found.
In fact, vaccines do not contain gluten and study authors cautioned that this misinformation is a detriment to public health particularly because the number of people who don’t have celiac disease but follow a gluten-free diet tripled between 2009 and 2014.
Gluten sensitive patients also reported that they declined getting a flu vaccination more frequently than celiac disease patients, 31 percent compared to 24 percent.
Additionally, those who are gluten sensitive are more convinced of the benefits of eating organic food and avoiding genetically modified food than their celiac disease counterparts, according to the study recently published in the journal Digestive Diseases and Sciences.
Gluten sensitive patients were also nearly two times more likely to believe that gluten is bad for everyone and that the gluten-free diet improves energy and concentration.
The survey results were based on responses by 217 with participants with gluten sensitivity and 1291 with celiac disease. The overall response rate to the survey, 27 percent, was noted as a limitation of the study because it raises questions about how representative participants are and whether its conclusions can be generalized.
Study authors suggest the idea that vaccines contain gluten might stem from a larger concern about the safety of medications for those on the gluten-free diet. Although few drugs contain gluten, some do and it’s difficult for patients to determine when that’s the case because drug companies are not required to label gluten in their products.
A recent Beyond Celiac study found that consumers continue to worry significantly about whether there is gluten in their medications. In that study, however, celiac disease patients expressed more worry than those who are gluten sensitive. Fifty four percent of celiac disease patients reported always checking drugs for gluten compared to 44 percent of those who are gluten sensitive. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently released preliminary voluntary guidelines advising drug makers to include a statement that their drug "contains no ingredient made from a gluten-containing grain (wheat, barley or rye)" when that’s true.
In the Columbia study, researchers said fear about vaccines among both celiac disease and gluten sensitive patients is “particularly troubling in the wider context of anti-vaccinations sentiment.” And people with celiac disease have a greater risk of ending up in the hospital because of the flu, the authors note.
They point to a 2010 Swedish study that compared biopsy results for celiac disease patients to hospital admissions records in the Swedish Hospital Discharge Register. Researchers then estimated the risk of hospital admissions compared to the general population. They found that those who had villous atrophy or inflammation, as well as children with celiac disease, were more likely to end up in the hospital.
The Columbia researchers called for more investigation into whether concerns about gluten in vaccines impacts parents’ decisions about vaccinating their children and whether it extends beyond flu vaccinations.
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