Antigen Counts in Vaccines

Vaccine Basics

Vaccine books to help you do your vaccine research.
Reading some of these books will help you to get educated about vaccines, make the right choice for your children, and get them protected against vaccine-preventable diseases. Photo by Vincent Iannelli, MD

Are kids getting too many vaccines today?

While they are certainly getting more vaccines than they used to, that just means protection against more vaccine-preventable diseases.

Too many too soon is just another scare tactic of the anti-vaccine movement.

Vaccine Antigen Counts

If you are still stuck on the actual number of vaccines, it is important to "understand that the numbers of antigens given are actually much less than they used to be.

This is because we are giving purer vaccines. Vaccines have been isolated down to just the proteins needed to produce protection."

The antigens are the things in the vaccines that actually trigger the production of antibodies and include antibody-stimulating proteins and polysaccharides.

In 1960, kids got up to 3,217 different antigens from the smallpox, polio, diphtheria, tetanus and whole cell pertussis vaccine.

In 1980, even as MMR replaced the smallpox vaccine, the antigen count in the vaccines kids got was still up to 3,041.

Purer Vaccines

Even with many more vaccines, the number of different antigens that children will get with today's immunization schedule is much lower than just 35 or 55 years ago:

  • DTaP/Tdap - 7 antigens
  • MMR - 24 antigens
  • IPV - 15 antigens
  • Hib - 2 antigens
  • Varicella - 69 antigens
  • Prevnar13 - 14 antigens
  • hepatitis A - 4 antigens
  • hepatitis B - 1 antigens
  • MCV4 - 5 antigens
  • HPV9 - 9 antigens
  • rotavirus - 15 antigens
  • Flu - 12 antigens

That's just 177 different antigens in 12 vaccines that protect children against 16 vaccine-preventable diseases.

That's still less than the 200 antigens that were in the smallpox vaccine that kids got 100 years ago.

Even considering that kids get multiple doses of many of these vaccines, with today's complete vaccine schedule, from birth to age 18, including yearly flu shots, they would get a combined total of just 653 antigens.

That's still much less than a single dose of the DTP vaccine that kids got until 1997, when it was replaced by the DTaP vaccine.

With the 1980 immunization schedule, kids got 5 doses of DTP, 4 doses of OPV, a dose of MMR, and a dose of Td, combining to a grand total of at least 15,096 antigens.

Immune System Response to These Antigens

Of course, this is not to say that kids were exposed to too many antigens in vaccines in the past - "young infants have an enormous capacity to respond to multiple vaccines, as well as to the many other challenges present in the environment."

Looking at the antigen load of vaccines is simply another way to understand that kids don't get too many vaccines too soon.

In fact, they get exposed to many more antigens from natural infections. A strep throat infection, for example, exposes kids to at least 25 to 50 antigens. That's comparable to the antigens in the vaccines that infants get at their two month visit - the DTaP, IPV, HepB, Hib, and rotavirus vaccines combine to just 54 antigens.

But it is not just infections that lead to antigen exposures. Kids are exposed to 2,000 to 6,000 antigens every day and the "vaccines that children receive in the first two years of life are just a drop in the ocean when compared to the tens of thousands of environmental challenges that babies successfully manage every day."

Get Educated. Get Vaccinated. Stop the Outbreaks.

Sources:

DeStefano, Frank. Increasing exposure to antibody-stimulating proteins and polysaccharides in vaccines is not associated with risk of autism. August 2013 Volume 163, Issue 2, Pages 561–567

Marshall, Gary S. Perspectives on Immunization. Journal of Managed Care Medicine. Volume 15, Number 3.

Offit, Paul A. Addressing Parents’ Concerns: Do Multiple Vaccines Overwhelm or Weaken the Infant’s Immune System? Pediatrics. Vol. 109 No. 1 January 1, 2002 pp. 124 -129

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