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Air pollution associated with lower Covid-19 vaccine responses

Many studies have provided evidence that air pollution is linked to a variety of adverse health outcomes, including lung cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and diabetes. Now, a team of experts led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) has identified another significant problem caused by air pollution: people exposed to higher levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and blank carbon (BC) before the Covid-19 pandemic appeared to have lower antibody responses to Covid-19 vaccines, suggesting that air pollution has a negative effect on the immune system too.

The scientists analyzed data from 927 participants in the GCAT Genomes for Life cohort (aged 40-65), who answered questionnaires and provided blood samples both in the summer of 2020, after the first lockdowns, and in the spring of 2021, after the beginning of Covid-19 vaccination. The participants’ exposure to air pollution was estimated based on their address before the pandemic.

The investigations revealed that, in previously uninfected individuals, pre-pandemic exposure to PM2.5, NO2, and BC was linked to a five to ten percent reduction in vaccine-induced antibodies, both for early IgM responses and later ones measured by IgG, with lower antibody levels persisting for several months after vaccination. These results were similar for all the three vaccines that were used (AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Moderna).

“Air pollution can induce chronic inflammation, which has been associated with a negative effect on vaccine efficacy,” explained co-senior author Carlota Dobaño, an associate professor of Immunology at ISGlobal. “Our findings are consistent with evidence that persistent organic pollutants reduce vaccine responses in children.”

Further research is needed the clarify the role of long-term exposure to air pollution on hybrid immunity (infection plus vaccination) and assess whether the reduction in antibody responses led to an increased risk of breakthrough infections.

“However, our findings add to a growing body of evidence on the adverse effects of air pollution even at the relatively low levels observed in Western Europe. They also call for stricter air pollution limits, as recommended by the WHO,” concluded co-senior author Cathryn Tonne, an environmental epidemiologist at ISGlobal.

The study is published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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