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PFAS Exposure and Antibody Response to COVID-19 Vaccine Study

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PFAS Exposure and Antibody Response to COVID-19 Vaccine Study

Not Currently Enrolling Participants.

What is this study?

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) conducted a research study to see if per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) exposure affects how the immune system responds to COVID-19 vaccines, including antibody production.

Participants in this study had up to four appointments at a study office, each about 30 days apart. We scheduled study office appointments according to when participants get their vaccine shots; COVID-19 vaccines were not provided by MDHHS as part of the study.

Each office visit took about 60 minutes. During the visit, participants gave a small blood sample and answered a brief survey. MDHHS tested the blood samples for PFAS (first sample only) and how the immune system responds to COVID-19 vaccines. At the end of each appointment, participants were offered a gift card to thank them for their time.

We are committed to protecting all information given to us by participants; all personal information provided is confidential and will be kept private.

Antibody Response to Vaccine Research: Main Findings

Reason for the study: Exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) is linked with lower antibody response to vaccinations. However, not all types of vaccinations have been studied and most studies are from young children. There is still much to learn about how PFAS may change the body’s response to vaccinations. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is working to expand the understanding of PFAS and health, including the immune system.

Goal of the study: MDHHS wanted to understand if past exposure to PFAS changes antibody response to the new COVID-19 vaccines. Adolescents and adults were the focus for this study instead of young children. This study tells us about how people’s bodies respond to the COVID-19 vaccines, including very small changes in the number of antibodies produced. This is important for understanding how PFAS can impact the immune system. This study was not designed to test how effective the COVID-19 vaccines are at preventing COVID-19. More information about COVID-19 vaccines can be found at

How we conducted the study: Between April and June 2021, people with past exposure to PFAS in their drinking water were asked if they planned to get a COVID-19 vaccine. If they said yes and met the study’s inclusion criteria, they were invited to join. The following was measured: (1) blood PFAS levels for many different PFAS, (2) their antibodies to natural COVID-19 infection, and (3) their antibodies to the COVID-19 vaccine. Statistical models were used to see what impact PFAS blood levels had on their bodies’ antibody response to the COVID-19 vaccine. These models allowed for a review of PFAS individually and collectively.

What we learned: We gained valuable information from this study of adolescents and adults, including:

  • Higher PFAS levels were not associated with a lower overall antibody response to the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • PFAS levels did not change the initial increase in antibodies to the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • PFAS levels did not change how quickly antibodies to the COVID-19 vaccine decreased over time.

Study participants responded to the COVID-19 vaccine by producing antibodies, as expected. Neither exposure to a single PFAS nor groups of PFAS appeared to change this. The figure to the left shows how similar the antibody responses were between participants with low and higher PFAS blood levels (full data available in scientific article).

Significance of the findings: It is important to understand vaccine response among populations exposed to environmental contaminants. Although there is growing evidence that PFAS may harm the immune system, this study did not demonstrate a reduced antibody response to one specific vaccine type, the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, among people with a history of exposure to PFAS. The findings of this study contribute one specific piece of information to the growing scientific understanding of PFAS and health.

Bailey, J.M., Wang, L., McDonald, J.M. et al. Immune response to COVID-19 vaccination in a population with a history of elevated exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) through drinking water. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol (2023).