Aluminum in Vaccines

Vaccine Basics

Aluminium (Chemical Element)
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Aluminum is a metal that has become the latest 'toxin' that some people worry about since thimerosal was removed from vaccines.

Like thimerosal, there are many myths and much misinformation that surrounds aluminum and which scares some parents away from vaccinating their kids.

Aluminum in Vaccines

Aluminum is an adjuvant. It is present in low amounts in some vaccines.

Unlike thimerosal, which is a preservative that kept bacteria from growing in multi-dose vials of vaccines, aluminum is present in vaccines to help them produce a stronger immune response.

Aluminum is used in vaccines that protect kids against several vaccine-preventable diseases, including diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTaP and Tdap), Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), hepatitis B, hepatitis A, HPV, and pneumococcal disease (Prevnar).

Although not a vaccine that is routinely given to children, the rabies vaccine also contains aluminum.

Keep in mind that aluminum is a ubiquitous compound. It is "present in the water we drink, the air we breathe and the food we eat."

But even when you consider how much aluminum infants might get from ingestion of breast milk or infant formula, drinking water, getting vaccines, and other sources, it is clear that "the body burden of aluminum from vaccines and diet throughout an infant's first year of life is significantly less than the corresponding safe body burden of aluminum modeled using the regulatory MRL (minimal risk levels)."

Aluminum Didn't Replace Thimerosal

One common myth about aluminum is that it replaced thimerosal in vaccines.

Of course, it didn't. Thimerosal is a preservative. Aluminum is an adjuvant. They serve totally didn't purposes.

As wrong as this myth is, you can see how antivaccine folks came up with it.

Even though aluminum has been used in vaccines for over 100 years, a few new vaccines that use aluminum have been added to the immunization schedule since 2000, which is about the time that thimerosal was removed from vaccines:

  • Prevnar
  • HepA
  • Tdap
  • HPV - has aluminum, except Cervarix

Only two of these are given to younger children though, and only one, Prevnar, is given to infants.

Other newer vaccines, including rotavirus vaccines, flu vaccines, and meningococcal vaccines, don't use aluminum as an adjuvant.

But even though you added two vaccines with aluminum to the immunization schedule for younger children, twice as many with thimerosal were changed to thimerosal free versions (hepatitis B, DTaP, flu, and Hib vaccines). So why are anti-vaccine folks saying that autism rates didn't drop after thimerosal was removed from vaccines because it was replaced with aluminum?

Aluminum and Autism

While aluminum didn't replace thimerosal in vaccines, it did replace thimerosal as what they could blame for the autism epidemic.

But of course, aluminum in vaccines doesn't cause autism.

In fact, "vaccines using aluminum adjuvants have a demonstrated safety profile of more than six decades."

Studies have concluded that the risk of aluminum in vaccines to infants "is not significant" and that the "risk to infants posed by the total aluminum exposure received from the entire recommended series of childhood vaccines over the first year of life is extremely low."

As you get educated about vaccines, you will hopefully understand that the presence of aluminum in vaccines is not a good reason to skip or delay getting your kids vaccinated and protected against vaccine-preventable diseases.

Misinformation about Aluminum in Vaccines

Why are some parents afraid of aluminum in vaccines, sometimes going so far as asking their pediatrician to order vaccines with lower levels of aluminum or only wanting to give their child one aluminum containing vaccine at a time?

It is likely a safe bet that they are getting the idea from Dr. Bob Sears, who goes on and on about the possible dangers of aluminum, all of the while using a reference that concludes that "we found no evidence that aluminum salts in vaccines cause any serious or long-lasting adverse events."

Dr. Bob once wrote an article for Mothering Magazine, "Is Aluminum the New Thimerosal?" He seems to be working hard to make sure that it is, as a source of fear for parents who want to follow his non-standard, parent-selected, delayed protection vaccine schedule.

Sources:

Baylor, Norman W. Aluminum salts in vaccines—US perspective. Vaccine. Volume 20, Supplement 3, 31 May 2002, Pages S18–S23.

Adverse events after immunization with aluminum-containing DTP vaccines: systematic review of the evidence, Jefferson T, et al; The Lancet Infectious Diseases 2004; 4:84-90

Keith. LS, Jones DE, Chou CH. Aluminum toxicokinetics regarding infrant diet and vaccinations. Vaccine 2002;20(Sppl. 3):513-7.

Mitkus, Robert J. Updated aluminum pharmacokinetics following infant exposures through diet and vaccination. Vaccine 29 (2011) 9538-9543

Vaccine Education Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Aluminum in Vaccines: What you should know. Q&A. Volume 5, Winter 2014.

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