What Is an Adjuvant, and Why Are They Used in Vaccines?

In this short video, Dr. Stanley Plotkin explains what adjuvants are and how they enhance the immune response to vaccines.


What Is an Adjuvant, and Why Are They Used in Vaccines?

I am Stanley Plotkin, Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania.

Vaccines are made of proteins and sugars. The problem with some vaccines, however, is that those proteins and sugars don’t give enough of an immune response. Therefore, in some vaccines, an addition to the vaccine is called an adjuvant. “Adjuvant” is derived — the word is derived -- from the Latin, meaning “to help.” And in effect, the adjuvant is a chemical substance that improves the immune response to the proteins or sugars in the vaccine. The adjuvants come in different types; aluminum salts are among the most prominent adjuvants, but these days, we have other types of adjuvants that are stronger, that give stronger responses than aluminum and, therefore, make for more potent vaccines.

Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center

Last Reviewed on Jan 10, 2020