Vaccine Ingredients - Aluminum

Aluminum is the third most abundant element after oxygen and silicon, and it is the most abundant metal, making up almost 9 percent of the earth's crust. Aluminum is found in plants, soil, water and air. Most plants have low quantities of aluminum, but a few are known to be aluminum accumulators, including some types of tea plants, grasses and orchids.

Aluminum is used extensively in various ways:

  • Aluminum can be found in food-related products including pots and pans; storage containers, such as beverage cans; and foil.
  • Aluminum is found in numerous foods and beverages including fruits and vegetables, beer and wine, seasonings, flour, cereals, nuts, dairy products, baby formulas, and honey. Typically, adults ingest 7 to 9 milligrams of aluminum per day.
  • Aluminum is used for manufacturing of airplanes, siding, roofing materials, paints, pigments, fuels and cigarette filters.
  • Aluminum is found in health products including antacids, buffered aspirin, antiperspirants and some vaccines.
  • Aluminum in vaccines

    Aluminum is used in vaccines as an adjuvant. An adjuvant is  vaccine component that boosts the immune response to the vaccine. Adjuvants allow for lesser quantities of the vaccine and fewer doses. The adjuvant effects of aluminum were discovered in 1926. Aluminum adjuvants are used in vaccines such as hepatitis A, hepatitis B, diphtheria-tetanus-containing vaccines, Haemophilus influenzae type b, and pneumococcal vaccines, but they are not used in the live, viral vaccines, such as measles, mumps, rubella, varicella and rotavirus.

    Vaccines containing adjuvants are tested extensively in clinical trials before being licensed. Aluminum salts and a detoxified bacterial component called monophosphoryl lipid A are the only materials that can be used as adjuvants in the United States. The quantities of aluminum present in vaccines are low and are regulated by the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER).

    The aluminum contained in vaccines is similar to that found in a liter (about 1 quart or 32 fluid ounces) of infant formula. While infants receive about 4.4 milligrams* of aluminum in the first six months of life from vaccines, they receive more than that in their diet. Breast-fed infants ingest about 7 milligrams, formula-fed infants ingest about 38 milligrams, and infants who are fed soy formula ingest almost 117 milligrams of aluminum during the first six months of life.

    *Note: One milligram is one-thousandth of a gram. One gram is the weight of one-fifth of a teaspoon of water.

    Quantities of aluminum in vaccines

    Pneumococcal vaccine

    • 0.125 mg/dose

    Diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis (DTaP) vaccine

    • < 0.17 to < 0.625 mg/dose

    Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine

    • 0.225 mg/dose

    Hib/Hep B vaccine

    • 0.225 mg/dose

    Hepatitis A vaccine (Hep A)

    • 0.225 to 0.25 mg/dose (pediatrics)
    • 0.45 to 0.5 mg/dose (adults)

    Hepatitis B vaccine (Hep B)

    • 0.225 to 0.5 mg/dose

    Hep A/Hep B vaccine

    • 0.45 mg/dose

    DTaP/inactivated polio/Hep B vaccine

    • < 0.85 mg/dose

    DTaP/inactivated polio/Hib vaccine

    • 0.33 mg/dose

    Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine

    • 0.225 mg/dose

    Japanese Encephalitis (JE) vaccine

    • 0.25 mg/dose

    "Is the Aluminum in vaccines safe?"

    "Is There a Difference Between Aluminum That Is Injected vs. Ingested?" 
  • Aluminum in other substances

    Quantities of aluminum in other substances

    Breast milk

    • 0.04 milligrams per liter (mg/L)

    Ponds, lakes, streams

    • 0.1 mg/L

    Infant formula

    • 0.225 mg/L

    Soy-based formula

    • 0.46 to 0.93 mg/L

    Buffered aspirin

    • 10 to 20 mg/tablet


    • 104-208 mg/tablet

    Given the quantities of aluminum we are exposed to on a daily basis, the quantity of aluminum in vaccines is miniscule. Aluminum-containing vaccines have been used for decades and have been given to more than 1 billion people without problem. In spring 2000, the National Vaccine Program Office (NVPO) reviewed aluminum exposure through vaccines and determined that no changes to vaccine recommendations were needed based on aluminum content. The Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety, part of the World Health Organization (WHO), has also reviewed studies and found no evidence of health risks that would require changes to vaccine policy.

  • Health effects of aluminum

    The health effects of aluminum have been studied; however, few have been shown to result from aluminum exposure. Kidney dialysis patients have developed disorders of the brain and bones due to the aluminum content in intravenous fluids and antacids following years of dialysis. Both disorders have decreased in occurrence due to improvements to dialysis systems. The bone disease was due to poor absorption of phosphate in the presence of high quantities of aluminum. Children taking large amounts of aluminum-based medications have also been found to suffer from this bone disorder.

    It has been suggested that some diseases involving the brain, such as Alzheimer's disease, are caused by aluminum accumulation in brain tissues. However, studies have not consistently found increased levels of aluminum leading some to hypothesize that the aluminum accumulation may be the result of tissue damage rather than the cause of disease.

  • References

    Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. (2006). Public Health Statement Aluminum CAS # 7429-90-5.

    Cherin, P. and J. Authier. (2001). Macrophagic Myofasciitis(PDF). Retrieved May 19, 2008 from Orphanet encyclopedia website.

    Finn, T. M. and W. Egan. (2008). Vaccine Additives and Manufacturing Residuals in U.S.-Licensed Vaccines. In S. Plotkin, W. Orenstein, and P. Offit (Eds.), Vaccines, Fifth Edition (pp. 73-81). China: Saunders Elsevier.

    Ganrot, P. O. (1986). Metabolism & Possible Health Effects of Aluminum. Env. Health Perspect. 65, 363-441.

    Mineral Information Institute. Aluminum & Bauxite. Retrieved May 19, 2008, from Mineral Information Institute website.

    Offit, P.A. and R. K. Jew. (2003). Addressing Parents Concerns: Do Vaccines Contain Harmful Preservatives, Adjuvants, Additives or Residuals? Pediatrics, 112(6), 1394-1401.

    Sorenson, J. R. J., Campbell, I. R., et. al. (1974). Aluminum in the Environment and Human Health. Env. Health Perspect. 8, 3-95.

    Vogel, F. R. and S. L. Hem. (2008). Immunologic Adjuvants In S. Plotkin, W. Orenstein, and P. Offit (Eds.), Vaccines, Fifth Edition (pp. 59-71). China: Saunders Elsevier.

    World Health Organization. (1999). Macrophagic Myofasciitis and Aluminum-Containing Vaccines. Weekly Epidemiological Record.74, 338-340.

    World Health Organization. (2002). Aluminum-Containing Vaccines and Macrophagic Myofasciitis. Weekly Epidemiological Record. 77, 392-393.

    World Health Organization. (2004). Aluminum-Containing Vaccines and Macrophagic Myofasciitis. Weekly Epidemiological Record.79, 20.

Reviewed by Paul A. Offit, MD on November 04, 2014

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Vaccine Education Center staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family's personal health. You should not use it to replace any relationship with a physician or other qualified healthcare professional. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult your physician or, in serious cases, seek immediate assistance from emergency personnel.