I have debunked a lot of anti-vax claims that childhood vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccines, are linked to type 1 diabetes. Of course, there is no evidence of a link between vaccines and diabetes — in fact, there is lots of evidence that some vaccines can actually reduce the risk of diabetes.
Of course, there is a continuing effort to stop this particular anti-vax myth (as if anti-vaxxers actually care about science and evidence), so another peer-reviewed study has been published that once again discredits these claims. And once again, for those who just want the tl;dr version, this research team found no link between vaccines and diabetes.
What is diabetes?
There are several forms of diabetes, but the ones that are the most familiar to most of us are type 1 (T1DM) or type 2 (T2DM) diabetes mellitus. Although they have similar names, they have separate etiologies and pathophysiologies.
In the most simple terms, all forms of diabetes have a common sign – excess blood glucose levels.
In a normal person (actually, blood glucose control is the same from lobsters to fish to dogs to humans), insulin is produced by specialized cells in the pancreas in response to increased levels of glucose in the blood, usually after a meal. Insulin signals cells to store sugar until it’s needed.
When the blood sugar gets low, the pancreas produces another hormone called glucagon, which signals to cells to release stored glucose.
That is a very simplified description of a complex blood glucose control system. The point is that the body strives to maintain a constant blood glucose level so that all of your other systems, cells, and organs can function in between meals.
So why does the body put so much effort into this system? Because glucose is the basic energy source for every single cell in your body. And because most organisms do not eat constantly, the system stores glucose when after you’ve consumed food, and releases it slowly in between meals.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, where the immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells, destroying the ability to produce insulin. This causes the control mechanism of blood sugar to break down leading to high blood glucose levels.
At this time, there are no cures. However, a type 1 diabetic who maintains good blood glucose control with diet, exercise, and proper doses of insulin can live a long, healthy life.
We do not know what causes the autoimmune disease that leads to diabetes, but it is probably related to an infection that causes the immune system to attack the pancreatic cells. Generally, the disease starts during childhood, but there are forms that can begin when someone is in their 30s or 40s.
On the other hand, Type 2 diabetes is a completely different disease. While type 1 diabetes has a clear cause, T2DM is much more complicated. Many people like to blame obesity and Big Macs for T2DM, but that’s vastly oversimplifying the etiology of the disease.
Type 2 diabetes isn’t one disease, it is actually several different diseases that are lumped together. In general, they all result from some combination of obesity, inactivity, diet, and genetics. There are fit, thin marathoners who have developed T2DM, and there are obese, inactive people who consume Big Macs several times a day who do not get the disease.
However, lifestyle (obesity, activity, and diet) are the largest and most powerful risk factors for type 2 diabetes. And, as opposed to type 1, type 2 is mostly preventable and reversible, and the body still produces insulin. It also is usually identified in adults, usually in their 40s and 50s.
The pathophysiology of type 2 diabetes is quite complex, and describing it is beyond the scope of this article. But basically, blood sugar control goes awry as the insulin signals start to be “ignored” by cells, and so instead of storing the sugar, the glucose remains in the blood.
Despite the fact that both types of diabetes are completely different diseases, they have the same major sign — high blood glucose levels. And that’s what leads to long-term diseases such as cardiovascular disease, immunosuppression, kidney disease, neurological disease, and much more. Uncontrolled blood sugar will not kill someone immediately (unless it’s extremely high), but it kills over a number of years.
But we will be focusing on type 1 diabetes mellitus and its relationship (or lack thereof) to childhood vaccines.
Vaccines and type 1 diabetes — the paper
In a paper published on 01 December 2021 in Pediatrics, Jason M Glanz, Ph.D. and colleagues examined the possible correlation between the CDC-recommended vaccines schedule and type 1 diabetes mellitus among children born between 2004 and 2014 using data from the Vaccine Safety Datalink, or VSD, a large database of medical data which includes vaccination histories, health outcomes, and subject characteristics. The VSD database contains data compiled from surveillance on more than seven million people in the United States, including about 500,000 children from birth through age six years.
In the retrospective cohort study, the researchers found no associations between the recommended immunization schedule with type 1 diabetes among those children between 2004 and 2014.
In a cohort of 584,171 children, the researchers found:
- The mean cumulative antigen exposure from vaccines was 263.
- The mean cumulative aluminum exposure was 4.11 mg.
- A total of 1,132 incident cases of T1DM were identified.
- There was no association observed for cumulative antigen exposer (adjusted hazard ratio =0.98). A hazard ratio of 1.0 would imply that the incidence of T1DM was equivalent between vaccinated and unvaccinated groups. A statistically significant number higher than 1.0 would imply that vaccines were linked to diabetes, and a number significantly lower than 1.0 would imply that vaccines reduced the risk of diabetes.
- There appeared to be a reduction in risk for T1DM with cumulative aluminum exposure >3.00 mg (adjusted hazard ratio = 0.77). No, this does not mean that aluminum is linked to lower risk of T1DM, it probably just shows that the vaccines are preventing infections that might trigger the autoimmune disease that lead to diabetes.
The authors concluded that:
The recommended schedule is not positively associated with the incidence of T1DM in children. These results support the safety of the recommended childhood immunization schedule.
And once again, we have solid evidence from a huge cohort study that there simply is no link between childhood vaccines and type 1 diabetes mellitus. There are anti-vaxxers who will continue to push this point, but they are simply wrong. Again.
- Glanz JM, Clarke CL, Daley MF, Shoup JA, Hambidge SJ, Williams JTB, Groom HC, Kharbanda EO, Klein NP, Jackson LA, Lewin BJ, McClure DL, Xu S, DeStefano F. The Childhood Vaccination Schedule and the Lack of Association With Type 1 Diabetes. Pediatrics. 2021 Dec 1;148(6):e2021051910. doi: 10.1542/peds.2021-051910. PMID: 34851413.
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