April 5, 2022

The process of introducing solid foods to a baby can be messy, entertaining and, as any parent who has been through that process knows, deliberate.

Cereals should be fortified with vitamins, doctors say. Fruits and vegetables should be introduced gradually, one ingredient at a time.

So, with all that careful planning about food for the baby’s health, how is it that health officials seem to believe vaccines for infants are OK? That’s the conundrum one widely shared Facebook post raised — but we found its assumption is based on unfounded claims about infants’ immune systems ability to handle ingredients in childhood vaccines.

“If you think a baby’s immune system can safely handle 8 different antigens (toxins, bacteria, DNA) in 1 day but when introducing food they should be fed 1 by 1 to catch an allergic reaction, you might be brainwashed,” read the March 23 post.

It was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

And it gives an inaccurate representation of vaccine safety.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends several vaccines for children before their first birthday in order to strengthen their immune systems against serious diseases, including Hepatitis B, rotavirus and diphtheria.

Vaccines given to babies do not overload their immune systems, according to the CDC.

Vaccines use small amounts of antigens, or parts of germs, to help babies recognize and learn to fight diseases. Babies encounter many more antigens in their environment every day than they do when they are vaccinated, the federal public health agency says. Thirty years ago, vaccines used 3,000 antigens to protect against eight diseases by age two. Now, children up to age two receive vaccines that use 305 antigens to protect against 14 diseases, according to the CDC.

It’s unclear what’s the basis for the post’s claim that there are “8 antigens” in childhood vaccines.

We spoke with Dr. Paul A. Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and he also doesn’t know where that number comes from.

Overall, he said doctors have 200 years of experience with vaccines, and have evidence of their safety and efficacy. Rarely, about one out of 2 million children, have an immediate reaction to gelatin, which is used as a stabilizer in vaccines.

In the flu vaccine, there is a very small amount of egg protein, but the amount is too small to cause an allergic reaction, even in people with severe allergies, Offit said.

The CDC recommends that when people with severe egg allergies are vaccinated against influenza or yellow fever (which is recommended for some travelers), they do so in a medical setting where they can be monitored in case of any reaction.

The Facebook post suggested that vaccines are not safe because they have toxins, bacteria and DNA.

Vaccines can contain viral and bacterial proteins. They can also have toxins in very small amounts. But these are not harmful. Even though fetal cells are used to grow vaccine viruses, vaccines do not contain these cells or pieces of DNA that are recognizable as human DNA, according to information published by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. These vaccines, for varicella, or chickenpox, rubella, and hepatitis A, are administered after the first birthday.

Regarding the introduction of new foods to babies in order to test for an allergic reaction, Offit said that those allergens are in much greater quantities in food, even if you’re feeding very small amounts.

The CDC recommends introducing one single-ingredient food to a baby at a time, to see if the baby has an allergic reaction. Caregivers should wait three to five days before introducing each new food. Foods such as eggs, peanuts, yogurt made with cow’s milk, and shellfish can cause an allergic reaction.

Our ruling

A Facebook post implies that a baby’s immune system can’t handle antigens from vaccines, because new food must be introduced slowly to identify allergic reactions.

There are antigens in vaccines, but they are in very small amounts, less than what a baby encounters in their daily environments, according to the CDC.

Allergens in food are present in greater quantities, even in small portions, leading to recommendations that babies try new foods slowly, to test for any allergic reaction.

The post’s comparison is not adequate, and the premise that vaccines are not safe due to antigens is wrong.

We rate this claim False.

This fact check was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for this fact check here and more of their fact checks here.

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Jill Terreri Ramos is a staff writer for PolitiFact New York and the Buffalo News.
Jill Terreri Ramos

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