Many people adopt a personal decision to avoid any and all vaccines that do not really seem necessary, or seem to correlate with other diseases. And, this number continues to grow as time goes by. Celiac patients, in particular, have been discovered to be particularly reluctant to take any vaccination as an extra precaution to prevent any harm towards their body.
According to a recent survey performed by Benjamin Lebwohl, MD, MS, of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University and featured in Healio Gastroenterology and Liver Disease, celiac patients have been avoiding vaccinations, not because of the potential health hazards they might pose due to exposure to inert or mild versions of several diseases, but because of their gluten content, which might contribute towards the appearance or worsening of their celiac symptoms. Furthermore, celiac patients were actually more prone to critiquing vaccinations and quicker to question vaccine safety with statements that stand in stark contrast to what is currently known by conventional medical science.
The study in question was performed and developed by Lebwohl in an effort to shed light on the beliefs of those who suffer from celiac disease towards vaccination. The investigation, which also involves individuals that struggle with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, is focused mainly on studying the beliefs of the participants that stand in complete opposition to what is known by modern medical science.
An important part of the study was performed in the form of an interview where participants were inquired regarding their beliefs on whether gluten is unsafe for absolutely everyone (not just celiac patients or for those with gluten sensitivity), about the safety of consuming Cheerios (the cereal), and their opinions on genetically modified (GMO) foods, among other topics. However, one of the most important parts of the investigation was regarding the participants’ beliefs towards vaccinations, as it was discovered that a significant number of celiac participants had declined the flu vaccine upon discovering that these substances, in general, might contain a considerable amounts of gluten.
Understanding vaccination refusal
This discovery prompted Lebwohl to dig deeper, so they began examining web surveys from patients of the health center to study their beliefs on vaccination. The surveys included over 1,200 individuals who suffered from celiac disease, as well as 217 patients who showed non-celiac gluten sensitivity. The average age of the patients was around 50 years old, while the predominant gender was female with a frequency of 83.3 percent.
Preliminary results discovered that, of the interviews studied, only 12.4 percent of patients were informed that vaccines contained gluten, and over 41 percent and 26 percent of celiac and gluten-sensitive patients, respectively, agreed that vaccines were unsafe. Furthermore, 30.9 percent of celiac patients and 24.2 percent of gluten-sensitive participants outright declined vaccinations when offered by health professionals.
To these facts, Lebwohl concluded that those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity were more likely than celiac patients to outright decline vaccinations (specifically, the flu vaccine) due to alleged gluten exposure, which lies in stark contrast to the claims of medical professionals that decline said exposure through vaccines. Lebwohl goes on to reassure that vaccines are completely safe for celiac patients, and that the myth of risk of gluten exposure is just that: a myth.
Lebwohl speculates about the origin of such claims, and proposes that it might be related to the longstanding concern on hidden sources of gluten, which created suspicion in celiac patients regarding certain condiments or supplements and ultimately contributed to them favoring some products over others. Furthermore, a lack of reliable information regarding many medications could also contribute to the participants’ fear of accidental gluten exposure. Regardless of the cause, these behaviors are definitely contributing towards potential public health hazards that must be addressed through evidence and facts.
This study was corroborated by another investigation performed by Dr. Loren Rabinowitz, also of the Columbia University Medical Center. Rabinowitz studied over 1,500 patients, of which 1,200 had a formal diagnosis of celiac disease, while the rest claimed they suffered from non-celiac gluten sensitivity, in order to discover their beliefs towards vaccinations. Similar to Lobwehl’s investigation, this study also delved into the subjects’ impressions on GMO foods, medical information, and vaccination, and its findings were presented in Digestive Disease Week.
In Rabinowitz’s study, when the subjects were inquired about the safety of vaccines, despite there being no evidence that they were made with or contain gluten, the vast majority responded positively to the belief that they, in fact, contained gluten, while another significant group voted that they didn’t know.
However, the important part of this study revolved around the differences between the two groups regarding their stances on vaccination and GMO foods.
For starters, those who claimed to have non-celiac gluten sensitivity were more likely than celiac patients to avoid GMO foods, preferring mostly organic ingredients, and to disregard the Food and Drug Administration as a reliable source of information when it comes to gluten values. Furthermore, they were also more likely to mistakenly believe that a gluten-free diet contributed towards a more energetic lifestyle and help to improve concentration, as well as to erroneously believe that the protein is bad for absolutely everyone.
When it comes to vaccinations, non-celiac gluten sensitivity patients also outshone the other group as they were more likely to question their gluten-free status, and preferred to avoid getting vaccinated as a result. Despite both groups showing significant concerns towards vaccines, around 31% of non-celiac patients rejected these substances with claims of gluten exposure.
How to fight this belief
Both studies coincide in the fact that these erroneous beliefs may contribute in great part to the spread of diseases, as well as the risk of public health hazards through the refusal to get vaccinated and adopt medical procedures that have, for a long time, been deemed as safe for both regular and celiac patients alike.
Vaccines such as the flu shot are important, especially for celiac patients, as they are more likely to get hospitalized as a result of the said disease. These findings illustrate the importance for doctors to sit down with their celiac patients, and to clear any and all doubts concerning vaccination and gluten exposure before sending them on their way.