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Childhood stress-related resistance to vaccines

The effects of stress on contemporary life continue to come into focus. Added contributions will come from UGA researchers trying to understand why stress experienced during childhood could make vaccines less effective for some people:

The researchers will study immune responses based on age, and whether or not stressful life experiences like physical or mental abuse, poverty, or adversity such as chaos in the home or neglect, can increase resistance to vaccines.

About 250 people ranging from age 18 to 85 will participate in the study. During the first of several lab visits over three weeks, each participant will have blood drawn and they will receive a flu vaccine. Participants will also complete questionnaires about past and current exposure to stress.

Research has shown that childhood experiences such as living in a household with divorced parents, living with a person suffering from a severe mental illness, or having someone in the home become incarcerated can affect an individual's health later in life.

"There's been some work with other adult samples showing that current stress can reduce the body's responsiveness to vaccines, which has significant public health relevance in terms of people who are getting vaccinated who might not be fully protected," said study co-leader Katherine Ehrlich, an assistant professor in UGA's behavioral and brain sciences program in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "Stressful early life experiences have been linked to cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and even early mortality, but never have been considered in the context of vaccine responses."

The sheer scale of scientific endeavors at this point in time makes better research more possible than ever. Blending physical characteristics with social conditions has real potential for expanding our understanding of lingering chronic issues that challenge broader society. Good luck to Dr. Ehrlich and Dr. Ross, and congratulations on the team of faculty from across UGA they have assembled for this project. We look forward to these findings.


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