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Would You Take a Vaccine That Prevents Alzheimer’s?

As medical treatment evolves, here are some questions to answer.

Edward Grinnan on Alzheimer's vaccine
Credit: Katye Martens Brier

Even if you are not a news junkie—and I’m not confessing that I am, mind you—I’m sure you have heard all the talk about the Covid-19 vaccines and the Delta variant. The subject is unavoidable, not just on cable news channels and social media but within our communities, our congregations and our families.

I was named for my beloved uncle Eddie, who in the course of his long career in microbiology and pharmaceutical research, did work on vaccine development. So, I’m not entirely objective on the subject. I got my shots as soon as I was eligible. Julee did too. As if Eddie was looking over our shoulders from heaven. 

Something I would have very much liked to discuss with him in researching my book on Alzheimer’s that you all have been helping me with is the prospect of vaccines against Alzheimer’s and related dementias. Science is in the early stages of a vaccine strategy yet there have been advancements, including a few vaccines that are in development and even trials. 

One of the most promising is a vaccine that stimulates the immune system to clear the brain of rogue tau proteins before they turn into tau tangles, a long-suspected culprit, along with amyloid proteins, in damaging brain cells—literally clogging them—and leading to irreversible cognitive decline. 

On autopsy, my mother’s brain displayed this type of damage. Some researchers believe the tau protein is the key to Alzheimer’s. In early trials, the vaccine has proven effective in eliminating the rogue taus, but it is not clear that this process alone can halt or reverse cognitive decline in the limited number of subjects studied, all of whom were mildly impaired. More work needs to be done. 

You readers have taught me that dementia is one of the most frightening diseases you can imagine. Alzheimer’s doesn’t just break minds, it breaks hearts. It takes away who we are. It is incurable and fatal. No wonder we are desperate for any sign of hope in the treatment of this scourge. Our prayers are unceasing. 

So, my question is this: Given all the talk of vaccines and vaccine hesitancy, would you take a vaccine that could prevent Alzheimer’s even if it were still in the testing phase? What if it was FDA approved? Would you want your loved ones to take it? Let me know by emailing me here, and I’ll let you know what I would do. And before I forget, thanks for all your responses to my blog on making lists. Some were really funny and all much appreciated.

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