Paul A. Offit, MD, discusses why aluminum is in vaccines and the safety of those small amounts.
Is the aluminum in vaccines safe?
Paul Offit, MD: Hi, my name is Paul Offit. I’m talking to you today from the Vaccine Education Center here at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. You know, parents are always concerned about not only sort of the active ingredients, if you will, about vaccines, but other things that are in vaccines. And one of the things that people call me about, or question me about, is aluminum.
And aluminum salts are in several vaccines. They’re in vaccines acting as adjuvants. And what an adjuvant does is it allows you to give fewer doses of vaccine, and also to give lesser quantities of the active ingredient in a vaccine. That’s the purpose of adjuvants, that’s why aluminum salts are in vaccines, and have been in vaccines since the 1930s.
The question is, is it safe? Is aluminum safe? And the answer is yes, it’s safe. At the levels contained in vaccines it’s absolutely safe. Is it possible that one can get enough aluminum — and aluminum is a light metal, arguably the most common light metal in the earth’s crust — is it possible to get enough aluminum to hurt you? The answer to that question is yes, but not by vaccines.
Usually when you see aluminum toxicity, and aluminum at very high levels can affect the brain, and it can also affect the bone marrow causing anemia, when you see that it’s usually in people who are hospitalized, who have kidneys that either don’t work well, or don’t work at all, who are getting large quantities of aluminum in things like antacids, or in their intravenous parenteral nutrition. So it’s really only in very rare setting in which you see aluminum toxicity, it’s invariably in a hospitalized patient.
So the level of aluminum contained in vaccines, however, is trivial. And you frankly ingest much more aluminum either in the water that you drink or anything made from water on this planet, and many of the foods that we eat contain quantities of aluminum far greater than you’re ever going to get in vaccines.
So, I think parents can be reassured that the trace quantities of aluminum in vaccines can’t possible do harm.
Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center
Last Reviewed on Aug 11, 2015