General Question

SquirrelEStuff's avatar

Are the ingredients in vaccines necessary?

Asked by SquirrelEStuff (9004points) January 10th, 2017 from iPhone

I am not against vaccines and understand the importance of them.
After looking through all of the ingredients in most vaccines, I can’t help but wonder if these are all necessary?
Some vaccines contain ingredients such as aluminum, formaldehyde, chick embryo, bovine extract, calf serum, thimerosal, etc.

I know that each individual vaccine is tested by itself, but how extensive is the research into combining many of the vaccines together or even shortly spaced apart?

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11 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

There has been quite a bit of research. Most vaccines don’t have thimerasol.

You certainly can space out the vaccines a little more than recommended if you like. I wouldn’t space out recommendations for series, but you can space out unrelated vaccines.

You can check if your doctor is giving a brand that has thimerasol and ask for a brand that doesn’t have it. Again, very few vaccines have mercury, studies show the mercury was not the cause of autism, but if it concerns you you can avoid as much as possible.

The other ingredient probably ate necessary or they wouldn’t be in there. Possibly, there are other ingredients that could be substituted, but I would think every ingredient in the vaccines have a reason did being there.

SavoirFaire's avatar

It seems to me that a lot of these ingredients are victims of dihydrogen monoxide syndrome. Someone who doesn’t quite understand the situation might be alarmed to hear that they are constantly surrounded by a chemical that has the highest pH value of any acid in the world, especially upon learning that you can’t get it off of your hands no matter how much you wash them. They might think themselves rightly worried about a chemical compound made up in part by a highly reactive hydroxyl radical that has been shown to mutate DNA, denature proteins, disrupt cell membranes, and chemically alter critical neurotransmitters. And indeed, the fact that dihydrogen monoxide is the combination of a highly explosive element and one of the most potent catalysts for explosive reactions may lead them to beg for government intervention. But then you tell them that “dihydrogen monoxide” is just another name for “water,” and they will (hopefully) calm down.

Aluminum might seem like an odd ingredient if you’re thinking about aluminum foil or a solid metal ingot, but vaccines don’t have chunks of metal in them. They contain aluminum salts, which boost the immune response of the vaccine’s recipient and prevent different batches of a vaccine from having wildly different levels of effectiveness. As is usually the case in chemistry, the properties of the compound are not just those of its component elements combined. Composition matters. Ethyl alcohol and methyl alcohol contain the exact same elements, for example, though in different amounts and in a different arrangement. One gets you drunk when ingested; the other kills you. Similarly, there’s a big difference between an aluminum salt (such as aluminum phosphate or aluminum hydroxide) and a hunk of solid aluminum. And in any case, infants get more than twice the amount of aluminum from breastfeeding than they do from vaccines.

Formaldehyde, meanwhile, is a classic case of the dose making the poison. While it can be dangerous in large amounts, small amounts are produced naturally in the human body and are easily metabolized. Furthermore, formaldehyde is not actually a direct ingredient of vaccines. As noted here, it is used “to inactivate viruses so that they don’t cause disease (e.g., polio virus used to make polio vaccine) and to detoxify bacterial toxins, such as the toxin used to make diphtheria vaccine. Formaldehyde is diluted during the vaccine manufacturing process, but residual quantities of formaldehyde may be found in some current vaccines. The amount of formaldehyde present in some vaccines is so small compared to the concentration that occurs naturally in the body that it does not pose a safety concern.”

As for chick embryos, there are none in vaccines. If you look closely, you’ll see that what is listed is “chick embryo cell culture.” A cell culture grown in a chick embryo is not the same thing as the embryo itself, though the difference is easy to miss on a quick reading. Because attenuated vaccines contain material from the viruses they are designed to fight, we have to grow that material before we can make the vaccine itself. The chick embryo is the substrate used to grow the virus before it is altered for medical use. Along the same lines, those viruses need something to feed on if they are to survive. That’s where the bovine extract and calf serum come in. At this point, you might be wondering why these things are listed if they are not in the final product. For that I refer you to the first sentence in the linked document: “This table includes not only vaccine ingredients (e.g., adjuvants and preservatives), but also substances used during the manufacturing process, including vaccine-production media, that are removed from the final product and present only in trace quantities.”

This brings us to thimerosal, which is used primarily as a preservative in multi-dose vials of influenza vaccine (which significantly lowers the price of said vaccine). The first thing to note is that the only reason people get worked up about thimerosal is that it has mercury in it. But remember the point I made earlier about chemistry? Well, it turns out that all of the worries about mercury toxicity are based on studies of methyl mercury. But thimerosal does not contain methyl mercury. It contains ethyl mercury, which is much less dangerous and is metabolized far more quickly. Again, composition matters.

So that’s the ingredients, but what about alternative vaccination schedules? As it turns out, there is quite a lot of research supporting the standard schedule. That’s why it’s the standard schedule. It was built on the evidence, and then continued to be studied each time a change was introduced. What has not been researched thoroughly is the effects of alternative schedules. There’s no reason to think that spacing vaccinations further apart will decrease the effectiveness of those vaccinations. The primary risk is that one’s child either catches or spreads one of the diseases they would have otherwise been protected against (possibly dying or killing another child in the process).

My own view is that the choice between “no risk” and “the possible death of one or more children” is not a remotely difficult one to make. But at the end of the day, parents are free to decide for themselves.

snowberry's avatar

I have mixed feelings about immunization programs. This rather long article explains why. It’s a good history of the development of vaccines, their ingredients, and the rise of food allergies that accompanied them. I tried copy and pasting a section of it, but my computer wasn’t cooperating.

BellaB's avatar

@snowberry , that’s a bit outdated (at best). The latest re peanut allergies is a recommendation to begin putting very tiny amounts of peanut butter on babies’ lips at about 4 months. Turns out avoiding peanuts has made things worse.

@SavoirFaire ‘s summary was excellent.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@snowberry There are many things wrong with that article. But seeing as a line-by-line refutation would most likely be interesting to one, I will instead focus on what I think are the most relevant points. First, go to the list provided by the OP. It is a list of all excipients included in U.S. vaccines.* You’ll notice that peanut oil is not listed. What Tim O’Shea (a doctor of chiropractic, by the way, and not a medical doctor) seems to have missed is that peanut oil was never used as an excipient in vaccines. The New York Times article he cites is about an early experiment that never went anywhere. So if peanut oil was never used as an excipient, then it can hardly be blamed for the putative rise in peanut allergies.

The reason I use the word “putative” brings us to the second important point. The structure of O’Shea’s article is built around a simple fallacy (and is similar to the argument structure used by those pushing the thoroughly debunked claims of a link between vaccines and autism). It begins by pointing to a statistical rise in a particular diagnosis (in this case, peanut allergies). It then notes something that happened around the same time (peanut oil in vaccines—though in this case, as already noted, the preceding event didn’t actually happen). No evidence is presented to link the two other than their historical order. This (fallacious) way of reasoning is known as post hoc ergo propter hoc (“after this; therefore, because of this”).

Worse yet, the argument is bolstered largely by a bit of empty rhetoric: the bit about peanut allergies being unheard of before 1900. But being unheard of is not the same thing as not existing. Plenty of things have gone unrecognized for years, centuries, or even millennia. Germ theory is less than 500 years old, and thus all bacterial infections were unheard of before then. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t happening. So the sudden rise in their diagnosis is to be attributed to an increase in our knowledge, not some random event that happened shortly beforehand. The same goes for cancer. While we’ve known about cancer for a long time, our ability to catch it early has improved dramatically over the past few decades. As a result, the number of pre-mortem cancer diagnoses has skyrocketed. But this doesn’t mean that cancer is new or that it is caused by the instruments we use to detect it.


* Note that vaccine manufacturers are required by law to disclose all ingredients used throughout the entire manufacturing process regardless of how much or how little is used. O’Shea’s use of the information contained (or not contained) in the Physicians Desk Reference to contradict this fact is laughable. The PDR is a reference tool, not an index of chemical formulas. One might as well complain that the periodic table (the purpose of which is to list only the basic elements) does not contain a complete list of chemical compounds.

tan253's avatar

I have found this, though @SavoirFaire seems to have it covered! ;)

I read today that Trump is opening an investigation into the safety of vaccines.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@tan253 Good find! It’s nice and condensed, and includes a link that I hadn’t found previously:

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
Rarebear's avatar

What is this dihydrogen monoxide thing, and should I be worried about it? It sounds dangerous.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Rarebear There’s plenty of totally reliable information about the dihydrogen monoxide problem on this very professional looking website. ~

Rarebear's avatar

Where yesterday’s future is here today. Hilarious!

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