Spotlight: polysaccharide vaccines and the debated link to heart attack and stroke

Recent news in the vaccine world has begun to examine a proposed link between polysaccharide vaccines and what effect these types of immunizations may have on heart attack and stroke risks in adults.    While you may not even realize it, polysaccharide vaccines are available in many forms—most commonly recognized as the meningitis vaccine, and in the pneumococcal vaccine which is a combination medication used to treat some forms of bacterial pneumonias in both children and adults.

Polysaccharide vaccines work by exposing the body to an inactivated form of the illness-causing bacteria.  Once the body is exposed to the potential invader, immunity is then built as the body is introduced to the bacteria.  Should the live bacteria ever make it into the body the immune system should kick in and fight against them to prevent illness.

There is no doubt, despite lots of debate that vaccines save lives. However the mysteries surrounding potential side effects are bringing many researchers around to ask themselves why these events occur.  Recent media has been spreading information in both web and print sources stating that vaccination with polysaccharide vaccines actually reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke in adult men.  All the information can leave more questions than answers, and finding a way to filter through the data can be an overwhelming task.

While the Journal of the American Medical Association is neither agreeing nor disputing this fact, one reliable study that was published in 2010 examines the issue more closely. This particular article examines the use of the pneumococcal vaccine exclusively, and presents data that could help readers have a clearer picture on the issue.  According to the article, the study followed thousands of men for 4 to 5 years—some who had been vaccinated against pneumonia and some who had not.  In a surprising turn, the study results actually showed higher rates of heart attack and stroke in the vaccinated group of men than those who did not receive the inoculation.

The study does not go so far as to claim that the vaccine increases the risk of heart attack or stroke, but simply states the results in that “receipt of pneumococcal vaccine was not associated with subsequent reduced risk of acute MI and stroke”.  A variety of influences were involved in the study, and you can read an excerpt from it here for more information.

Saving lives is top priority for the medical world. Every day researchers around the globe put on their lab coats and their thinking caps to bring the best treatments and prevention methods to the front lines of health care.  We know that diet, exercise and medical history can all play a significant role in cardiovascular health—and now maybe vaccines do too.




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