Can Antibiotics Make Childhood Vaccines Less Effective?

If your child has ever had strep throat, an ear infection, or pink eye, chances are their doctor has prescribed antibiotics to help treat it. Antibiotics are medications that kill off bacterial infections either by destroying harmful bacterial cells or inhibiting their ability to multiply (via WebMD).

While antibiotics are incredibly effective at treating bacterial infections and have saved many lives, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 1 out of every 3 prescriptions for antibiotics is not necessary due to the fact that it is prescribed for viral infections, rather than bacterial ones. This is incredibly concerning, considering that the overuse of antibiotics can create resistance in the body, thereby rendering future antibiotic use less effective (via the Mayo Clinic). A new study has now come out further highlighting the dangers of antibiotic overuse and questioning whether or not they may also cause vaccines to lose their effectiveness.

The link between vaccines and antibiotic use

A 2022 study published in Pediatrics suggests that vaccines may be less effective in children who were more frequently given antibiotics when they were under 2 years of age. The study was conducted from 2006-2016 and examined 560 children between 6-24 months of age. Researchers measured antibody levels from a handful of vaccines given to the children, namely the diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis (DTaP) vaccine, inactivated polio vaccine (IPV), Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib), and the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV). They then compared antibody levels to antibiotic use and found that children who were given more antibiotics over time had lower overall antibody levels. These findings are concerning because the levels of antibodies within your system indicate the level of protection your body has against certain diseases, per Healthline.

Being judicious with your child's antibiotic use can go a long way. "Most infections are viral and a lot of times a doctor will feel pressured by a parent to give an antibiotic even though there is no need for it," pediatrician Dr. Gina Posner explained to Healthline. It may feel constructive to give your child antibiotics for an illness, but be sure to discuss the pros and cons with your pediatrician.