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COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s?

We all have been in desperate need for a ray of sunshine during this COVID-19 quarantine.  Well, this week, we are told that a vaccine for COVID-19 has gone to phase 3 clinical trials.  These are the trials in any FDA approval process where the company with the therapy specifies what they expect as the outcome of the treatment – in this case a vaccine – and increases the number of test subjects to the thousands so that they can be more statistically sure of the outcome and also vigilant about any negatives that may occur in very small percentages of people.

A ray of sunshine?

Good news, right?

There is a bonus with this vaccine.  Those who ultimately will become vaccinated not only will be virtually eliminating the chance of coming down with COVID-19, but they also likely will be reducing their chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease as well.  Yes, those who receive this and some other vaccines will have a measurably reduced chance of developing Alzheimer’s if retrospective science just out holds up.

Public health scientists have long worked to show that the anti-vaxxers shouting about an increased risk for autism and even Alzheimer’s are wrong associated with vaccines are just plain wrong.  They did what honest scientists have always done, and that is … follow the data.  What they found quite amazed them and continue to impress scientists.  Just this week, two pieces of research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference that not only do vaccines prevent the diseases they are designed to prevent, but they also serve to protect memory and cognition.  These are not just small scale studies.  The first of the two from the University of Texas compiled data from millions of records in a national data base.

The scientists were generally looking for any factors that would influence people succumbing to Alzheimer’s among other conditions.  One of the factors with a measurable and positive effect was flu shots. The scientists found that a bit unexpected, so they looked more closely at medical records of about 9,000 60+ year old people.  They compared those who had received flu shots with those who had not controlling for other factors like smoking habits, diabetes, obesity and more.

People who had received at least one flu shot reduced their Alzheimer’s risk by 17%, and those who had regular immunization dropped their risks another 13%.  More vaccines results in less Alzheimer’s!  This was a bit surprising, because the conventional wisdom had been that vaccines do introduce some inflammation, and this had also been associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

I had mentioned a second study.  That one had looked at pneumonia vaccines.  In that study, they looked at 5,000 65+ year olds who had been vaccinated for pneumonia before they were 75 years old.  Those receiving the vaccine were 25% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s, although having a flu vaccine also did not add to this benefit.

The jury is out on exactly why vaccines and Alzheimer’s have this relationship, and the scientists are look at what may actually cause what.  They also are looking at other vaccines.  I would have been on board for an anti-COVID vaccine already, but this added benefit just seems to be icing on a cake that is too long in coming.  It is also gratifying to see that anti-vaxxers are on the wrong side of the longstanding debate about vaccines.

Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.

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