Fact check: Vitamin K injections safe for newborns, save lives
The claim: Vitamin K shots for newborns are poisonous
A March 16 Instagram post (direct link, archive link) features a 2018 clip from the Alex Jones Show questioning an injection commonly given to newborn babies.
“What's in the vitamin k shot they give to newborns ... they have (sic) poisoning our babies for decades,” reads text across the video.
The post was liked more than 10,000 times in two weeks. A longer clip of the same interview was also published on YouTube.
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Our rating: False
The components of Vitamin K shots are safe, according to medical professionals and research. The injections are believed to prevent thousands of uncontrollable bleeding episodes in newborns annually.
Injections safe and life-saving
The Instagram video features Brandy Vaughan, a former pharmaceutical representative who led organizations that challenged the pharmaceutical industry and government health mandates before her death in 2020. In the clip, she makes claims about the safety of components of the injections besides the vitamin itself, highlighting polysorbate 80 and aluminum by name.
But medical professionals say those concerns are unfounded. The additional components of the injection, also known as "stabilizers and buffers," are necessary for the shots to be viable after transportation and storage and are either naturally occurring or in small enough amounts to be harmless.
“A baby who grows up to ever put his or her hand in their mouth, or whoever takes a bite of ice cream, will see more of those stabilizers/buffers at that time than all of the vaccines or vitamins we inject combined,” said Dr. Christine Gold, a pediatrician at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital who previously was the medical director for its level one nursery.
She called the injection, routinely given soon after birth, “safe and life saving.”
A 2013 report in the Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine identified what its authors believed was the first reported case in the world of anaphylactic shock in a newborn that was caused by an intramuscular injection of vitamin K. The report authors were unaware of any other such reactions across more than six decades of the shots being the standard of care in much of the world.
The University of Michigan's C.S Mott Children’s Hospital says on its website that newborns largely cannot have an allergic reaction to polyoxyethylated fatty acid derivatives, such as polysorbate 80, because their immune systems are “not yet sensitized to possible allergens.”
A Wise Health System handout says any aluminum that ends up in vitamin K shots is incidental from manufacturing and capped out at no more than 0.05 micrograms per dose. That is less than half of the concentration of aluminum found in baby formula.
Vitamin K injections have been recommended since 1961 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recognized the vitamin is crucial to the body producing clotting factors. Newborns have very little vitamin K when they are born and are at an elevated risk of uncontrolled bleeding until about six months when they are eating enough food to keep vitamin K levels up.
Children not receiving the injections are 81 times more likely to develop bleeding from vitamin K deficiency, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Videos like this are really devastating, because this misinformation could lead future parents to decline the vitamin K injection for their newborn, leading to risks of devastating brain bleeds,” Gold said. “This can lead to neurological devastation or death in a baby that was otherwise healthy.”
Fact check: Giving water to babies is unsafe before 6 months
Vaughan broadly suggested in the video that other components of the commercially available shots posed health risks. While those components differ depending on the manufacturer, the fact sheet from Mott breaks down what is in its shots and explains the purposes and risks. Beyond vitamin K, it includes:
Dextrose, which is commonly and safely given to infants who have hypoglycemia.
Benzyl alcohol, which prevents bacterial contamination in the shot. A newborn would need to receive approximately 100 times higher amounts than what is in the single shot on a daily basis to cause side effects.
Hydrochloride, which alters the pH of a solution.
USA TODAY reached out to the social media user who shared the claim for comment.
AFP also debunked the claim.
Our fact-check sources:
Dr. Christine Gold, March 30, Email exchange with USA TODAY
CDC, reviewed Jan. 1, 2021, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s): Vitamin K and the Vitamin K Shot Given at Birth
CDC, reviewed Jan. 1, 2021, Protect Your Baby from Bleeds – Talk to Your Healthcare Provider about Vitamin K
Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, Oct. 17, 2013, Anaphylactic shock due to vitamin K in a newborn and review of literature
University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital, accessed March 30, Vitamin K Questions And Answers
Wise Health System, accessed March 30, Questions and Answers from your Wise Health System Pediatricians
AFP, March 27, Vitamin K shot strongly recommended for newborns
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Components of vitamin K shots safe, critical for newborns