What’s in a vaccine?


Waaaaaay back in the first post of my sub series on vaccines I said I would cover vaccine styles, how they work (and Pt. 2) and why we can’t rely on therapeutics alone. I promise I’ll get to the last one at some point but after a couple of weeks writing about vaccines something occurred to me that I hadn’t really thought about before, what is actually in a vaccine?

In all my undergrad classes I don’t think we ever talked about what else was in a vaccine apart from the intended target of the immune response. This is actually a really important consideration as some people have serious concerns over the safety of the ‘other bits’, which include aluminium, mercury, alcohols and hydrochloric acid.


Accoring to anti-vaccination agitators the aim of all vaccines is to make you dead, apparently.


One of the things I have never understood is why some people seem to assume that researchers and pharmaceutical companies are out to make us sick, they want to make a profit sure but to go all this trouble to inflict harm would be ridiculous. All the legal loops you have to jump through to get a vaccine to market mean that if your goal was to make people sick it would be easier, cheaper and save a lot of time if you just grew some bacterial broths and released them into the water supply. Having said that anti-vaccination activists have a number of ingredients they argue are more damaging than the infectious particles the vaccine is designed to target.

The first big one is mercury. Mercury, aside from being one of the coolest elements (a metal that doesn’t play by the rules, it’s the James Dean of elements), is used to sterilise some vaccine particles. The form that is used is called Thiomersal and is also known as ethyl mercury. Thiomersal has in fact used to sterilise a lot of things and is still used to sterilise liquids like contact lens fluid. Ethyl mercury is bacteriostatic as opposed to bactericidal which mean it simply prevents growth but does not directly kill. Why is it thought to be a problem? It’s the letter ‘M’s fault. Ethyl mercury is fine; METHYL mercury is not so good. The body easily absorbs methyl mercury where it goes to work looking for cysteine residues, which are found in your proteins. Once there it can prevent normal protein function, which, as you would expect, makes normal protein activity, and therefore living, difficult. Intake of METHYL mercury has been linked to developmental defects in children and cardiovascular problems in adults. Importantly, ETHYL mercury has not. Despite this concerns about Thiomersal has resulted in it no longer being used in children’s vaccines, which makes me wonder why it’s still brought up at all?


Some consider this highly volatile form of Mercury to be both awesome and dangerous.


Another metal anti-vaccination peeps get their knickers knotted about is aluminium and this time they are right. You got me. Aluminium is in vaccines but not without reason. As it turns out, aluminium makes a fantastic adjuvant. Adjuvants are used to increase the efficacy of a vaccine, particularly when the vaccine my not elicit a strong immune response normally. Aluminium hydroxide can be found commonly in the following vaccines Hep A, Hep B, diptheria-tetanus-pertussis, haemophilus, human papilloma virus, and some pneumococcal vaccines.  So what does all this Alfoil do in our systems? Nothing, not a single thing. Roughly calculated a 6 month old will receive approx 4 milligrams of aluminium hydroxide (AlOH) in vaccines. In those same 6 months that same baby will have ingested more than 10 milligrams from breast-feeding. If by 6 months that baby is on formula the ingested AlOH could be anywhere between 10 and 50 milligrams! In fact many antacids have AlOH as an active ingredient because it can bind up acids but is also poorly absorbed in the gut such that barely any makes it into the body.

What about hydrochloric acid (HCl)? Surely that’s not put into vaccines. Of course it is. This is one that’s wheeled out because we all know HCl could eat right through steel, or whatever, right? Standard practice in labs all around the world is to use HCl if you need to drop the pH of your solution. In this case vaccines that have a high pH, which could be very dangerous if injected or consumed at this stage are brought back down to a normal range pH (approx pH = 6.8 – 7.2) to make them SAFER!

Despite us knowing that it is very nasty stuff formaldehyde is still used by many vaccine manufacturers. It is used in tiny amounts as a primary sterilising agent that is then almost completely washed off in subsequent sterilisation steps and it’s a natural metabolic by-product of human beings. Yes, in large concentrations it is flammable and can cause significant irritation to your eyes and mucosal membranes if inhaled. It is also a known toxin, allergenic and carcinogen. But it is used in such small amounts and almost entirely removed during the manufacturing process. It is often found in conjunction with Carbolic acid, another notorious ingredient. Together the two chemicals produces phenolic compounds which are used throughout the pharmaceutical industry as sterilising agents. But it has been shown that even aspirin when broken down in the liver results n detectable phenolic compounds.

I could go on and on. The point is that there are plenty of things in vaccines other than the active agent but everything else that is there is used to stabilise, buffer, sterilise or improve the vaccine. Trying to cram in things that will kill you would just take too much extra effort on the part of the evil mad scientists to bother about when we could be off building death rays and electrified shotgun shells. Vaccines are phenomenally safe and heavily regulated to prevent the distribution of poisons, as soon as that changes we will let you know though 🙂 .


Mad Scientists. Waiting till you least expect it to unleash the next killer vaccine.



Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine


Ribeiro CM, & Schijns VE (2010). Immunology of vaccine adjuvants. Methods in molecular biology (Clifton, N.J.), 626, 1-14 PMID: 20099117
BAYLOR, N. (2002). Aluminum salts in vaccines?US perspective*1 Vaccine, 20 DOI: 10.1016/S0264-410X(02)00166-4

Dunning, Brian. “Vaccine Ingredients.” Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 17 Nov 2009. Web. 5 Oct 2010.

CDC. “Ingredients of Vaccines – Fact Sheet.” CDC. U. S. Federal Government, 19 May 2009. Web. 11 Feb. 2010



Filed under James' Corner

26 responses to “What’s in a vaccine?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention What’s in a vaccine? « Disease of the Week! -- Topsy.com

  2. I heart your pictures so much, especially the mad scientist.

  3. Xien_Rue

    The problem is not everyone familiar with science. So it will be more difficult for them to see some things accordingly. They will either afraid too much or expect to much. The latter, I have experienced that first hand. That’s why information is important even it will not erase all of the prejudice.

  4. Do we know the effects of thiomersal to pregnant women and their unborn child? (I’m pretty certain I can find the answer somewhere, but since you’re talking about it…) Thanks.

    • This info comes straight from the FDA – http://preview.tinyurl.com/ln34cx
      Thiomersal is being removed from all vaccines being given to children under 6 years of age and pregnant women are advised to avoid all vaccines containing Thiomersal except the flu vaccine. This is because the Institute of Medicine (IOM) determined the risk associated with pregnant women contracting flu was greater than any perceived problem with the administration of Thiomersal. It appears that the campaign against Thiomersal is largely PR driven as we have other preservative that work fine. All the studies looking for problems with Thiomersal have found that at clinically relevant concentrations it is perfectly safe and effective as an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent.

  5. Pingback: Quick Links | A Blog Around The Clock

  6. Woo! Freddy! I don’t know why it took me so long to get round to reading this, but it was definitely worth it, really interesting post.

    Mercury is seriously weird though. Back in the day (on the wrong continent for school health and safety apparently) I remember one of our mercury thermometers breaking. The teacher got two bits of paper and tried to join the little droplets of mercury together, some of them joined, some repelled, they all were fascinating to watch.

    • I’m glad you liked it. I have to say it was one of the funner posts to write too. I have a similar memory from a junior high science class except the relieving teacher was trying to collect the mercury up with a magnet. Coz itz a metel. Duh.

  7. Pingback: Open Laboratory 2010 – submissions so far | A Blog Around The Clock

  8. James mk2

    Okay, so AlOH is badly absorbed by ingestion so barely any gets into your body, but what happens when it gets in with a vaccine, as this doesn’t rely on your gut absorbing it?

    • The reason it is so poorly absorbed by the gastrointestinal system is the same reason it make a great adjuvant. It’s poorly absorbed by any cell so it just persists irritating the hell out of the immune system and in doing so attracting it to clean up the vaccine target as well.

  9. I wonder if vaccines have ever been as controversial as they are now, except maybe the “early days” (18-19th cent)? The world seems to go crazier with every year. May be too much information? I’m not joking.

    • Oh I realise you’re not joking 🙂
      I think that for most new parents there is no connection to a time when world wide pandemics like polio were were in the back of everyone’s mind. People knew what polio resulted in and that measles could kill. All most parents are familiar with now are the rare side effect of the vaccines rather than the effect of the infectious agent itself. I’d like to think more information makes people more informed, it just has to be the right info. Unfortunately it may take another pandemic to show some people what vaccines do.

  10. Miriam

    James, I was in a lecture today that was meant to be about teaching students with Autism/Aspergers. In a section on debunking the myths of Autism, the lecturer told us that it was a myth that “Autism is NOT caused by vaccines”. There was outrage from the more science-focussed members of the audience.

    She claimed that a recent study showed a strong correlation between Thiomersal and Autism. She seemed to think that the problem was all the mercury. I wished that I could remember what the actual compound was called.

    Anyway, she was all sorts of wrong and I was outraged.

  11. Pingback: Open Laboratory 2010 – one month left to submit! | A Blog Around The Clock

  12. Pingback: Open Laboratory 2011 – three weeks to go! | A Blog Around The Clock

  13. Pingback: Open Laboratory 2010 – two weeks to go! | A Blog Around The Clock

  14. Pingback: Open Laboratory 2010 – only eight days till the deadline! | A Blog Around The Clock

  15. Pingback: Only three days to go – Open Laboratory final stretch for submissions! | A Blog Around The Clock

  16. Pingback: It’s getting hot – submissions for Open Laboratory 2011 are flying in by the dozens per hour… how about you? | A Blog Around The Clock

  17. Pingback: Open Laboratory 2010 – the final stretch! | A Blog Around The Clock

  18. Pingback: Open Laboratory 2010 – submissions now closed – see all the entries | A Blog Around The Clock

  19. JC

    I’m a mother of three small children. I feel like I go over the same information whether or not to vaccinate each time we have a child on the way. So far my husband and I have chosen to vaccinate. However, my mother in law is “anti-vaccination’s ” so most of everything she sends my way is so scary you’d never want to vaccinate. But with out breaks of diseases that were thought to have been extinct with people who have chosen not to vaccinate, we’ve kind of felt “damed if you do, damed if you don’t”.
    I appreciate your post as to What are in the vaccines and the honesty I felt in it. After all, as a parent you’re just trying to do what’s best…you never know all the answers. I was led to your sight after reading an article about breast cancer and the research they’ve found and have linked it to aluminum and mass iron/potein found in cancer patients. They can’t link it by food intake but they can by vaccinations received. I also know that cancer in children have largely increased. I honestly don’t think researchers are just trying to make money, but even in your article you said “almost completely washed away”… Do you think there is a link with the small amounts not washed away and left in the vaccinations leading to the rise in cancer? And if so, then the question is; use vaccinations now so your child doesn’t get sick and just hope that later on you and your child don’t get cancer from the effects??
    Sorry for the novel. I’m just needing someone with more knowledge, and not prejudice either way, to give me their opinion/advice.

    • Hi there JC! Sorry I couldn’t get back to you right away, I was away on holiday with no internet (deliberately).
      I’m glad you got something out of the vaccination series Thomas and I wrote last year and in particular the piece on the vaccine components. My opinion, as an interested party but by no means an expert in anyway would be that aluminium and cancer are probably not linked through vaccination. The aluminium that is used, as I said, is removed very easily by the body to no adverse effect and is only there to irritate the body, acting as a target for the immune system and helping generate an immune response. As for the increase in childhood cancer rates its hard to know if indeed they have been going up in recent years or in fact with advancements in medical imaging and the accompanying increase in ability of good diagnoses to be made it might simply be that the overall number of cancers stays the same but our ability to see them has increased, resulting in an apparent yet artificial ‘increase’.
      The other thing with cancer is that it is very complicated and take time to develop. Without overdoing it here its worth remembering that many if not most childhood cancers are caused not by environmental factors but by genetic defects, it are the cancers of adults that are caused by smoking, drinking and sun. If aluminium did cause cancer I would think it would have to be because a LOT remained in the body and vaccine simply do not contain that much compared to what can be ingested naturally in mint for example.
      I get that it is hard for many to determine what is good information from what has been misinterpreted but the best I can ever advise is get at least a second opinion and if possible a third and a fourth until you have seen enough doctors to get an idea what a consensus think and base your decision on the advice of many rather then a single voice.
      I hope you find my novel useful or informative and hope to see you back again 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s