Christine Stabell Benn is a physician, a professor at the University of Southern Denmark, and a vaccine researcher with almost thirty years of experience in the field. The focus of her research is non-specific vaccine effects, i.e. all those other effects, both positive and negative, that vaccines have on our immune systems and overall health, beyond their very specific ability to protect against one infectious disease.
What she’s found over the course of her research is that the overall effect on mortality varies greatly depending on whether a vaccine is “live” (i.e. contains a weakened but still complete version of the pathogen) or “non-live” (i.e. only contains a small part of the pathogen it’s supposed to protect against).
Live vaccines tend to be associated with a reduction in overall mortality that goes far beyond the protection they offer against the specific pathogen. Non-live vaccines, on the other hand, actually seem to increase overall mortality, so that whatever benefit they provide against a specific pathogen is outweighed by their negative overall health effects. This matters, because there has been a trend over the last few decades to replace live vaccines with non-live vaccines.
Unfortunately, when randomized trials of vaccines are run, they usually only look at the ability to protect against a specific pathogen, and thus fail to answer whether the vaccine provides an overall health benefit or not. Vaccine trials are also usually too short, because non-specific vaccine effects can last for years or in some cases even decades.
In this conversation with Christine Stabell Benn, we discuss the current state of vaccine research, how an optimal childhood vaccination program could be created with relatively small tweaks to the existing system, how parents should think about vaccines for their children, and I also get Christine’s opinion on the covid vaccines and the annual flu vaccines.