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Microbial structure and function in infant and juvenile rhesus macaques are primarily affected by age, not vaccination status


Although thimerosal, an ethylmercury-based preservative, has been removed from most pediatric vaccines in the United States, some multidose vaccines, such as influenza vaccines, still contain thimerosal. Considering that a growing number of studies indicate involvement of the gut microbiome in infant immune development and vaccine responses, it is important to elucidate the impact of pediatric vaccines, including thimerosal-containing vaccines, on gut microbial structure and function. Here, a non-human primate model was utilized to assess how two vaccine schedules affect the gut microbiome in infants (5-9 days old) and juveniles (77-88 weeks old) through 16S ribosomal RNA sequencing and metabolomics analyses of the fecal samples. Two treatment groups (n = 12/group) followed either the vaccine schedule that was in place during the 1990s (intensive exposure to thimerosal) or an expanded schedule administered in 2008 (prenatal and postnatal exposure to thimerosal mainly via influenza vaccines), and were compared with a control group (n = 16) that received saline injections. The primary impact on gut microbial structure and function was age. Although a few statistically significant impacts of the two common pediatric vaccine schedules were observed when confounding factors were considered, the magnitude of the differences was small, and appeared to be positive with vaccination.

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