Feature Article: How Many Trivia Questions About Vaccine Ingredients Can You Answer?

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Health observances are meant to shine a light on important related topics, so the public can easily stay abreast of what is new and relevant. April is a busy month when it comes to vaccines and health observances. This week (week of April 3) includes National Public Health Week, Adolescent Immunization Awareness Week, and World Health Day. Later in the month, Vaccination Week in the Americas, National Infant Immunization Week, and World Immunization Week will be observed. To celebrate these observances, we decided to replace the usual feature article narrative with some fun and interesting trivia related to vaccines and their ingredients. See how you do — and have fun!


Scroll down for answers.

Q 1. Which of these common household products is NOT found in some vaccines?

  1. Sugar
  2. Salt
  3. Saffron
  4. Saline

Q 2. True or False. Some vaccines contain products of porcine (pig) origin.

  1. True
  2. False

Q 3. A few people may get concerned if they hear that some vaccines contain formaldehyde, but some foods also contain formaldehyde. Do you know which of these foods contain formaldehyde?

  1. Coffee
  2. Bananas
  3. Seafood
  4. None of these
  5. Two of these
  6. All of these

Q 4. Some vaccines contain quantities of ingredients that are measurable in milligrams. A milligram is 1/1000th of a gram. Which of these is about the weight of a gram?

  1. One nickel
  2. One raisin
  3. One sugar packet
  4. One penny

Q 5. Which of these animals do we have to thank for contributing to the vaccine production process?

  1. Chickens
  2. Pigs
  3. Cows
  4. Dogs
  5. None of these
  6. Two of these
  7. All of these


A 1. The answer is (C), Saffron. Some vaccines contain each of the other items listed. The chemical name for sugar is sucrose, and that of salt is sodium chloride. Saline typically contains salt and water, but in some vaccines, it also contains additional salts that help keep the pH at levels appropriate for cells. Some of the examples that you might see on a vaccine ingredient list include phosphate buffered saline solution, histidine buffered saline, isotonic sodium chloride, and isotonic saline.

A 2. The answer is (A), True. A few vaccines contain products derived from pigs. Specifically, most vaccines that contain gelatin use a porcine source. The one exception is a rabies vaccine that uses gelatin of bovine origin (RabAvert®). To see which vaccines contain gelatin, check out this page on our website.

A 3. The answer is (F), All of these. Many foods contain some formaldehyde, and, in fact, our bodies produce formaldehyde during normal, required-for-life metabolic activities. As a result of food exposures and metabolic processes, the amount of formaldehyde introduced by vaccines is significantly lower than that commonly found in our bloodstream. To find out more, see our webpage about formaldehyde in vaccines. For more information about formaldehyde contained in foods, check out these two articles:

A 4. The answer is (B). One raisin weighs about a gram. One nickel weighs 5 grams. One sugar packet weighs 4 grams, and one penny weighs 2 1/2 grams. Can you imagine cutting your raisin into 1,000 pieces? Each piece (if you did a good job of cutting equally sized pieces) would be about a milligram. As you are probably realizing, a milligram is a very small amount. This is why the ingredients in vaccines are unlikely to cause untoward health conditions. As described by Paracelsus, a Swiss chemist and physician, “All things are poison and nothing is without poison; only the dose makes a thing not a poison.” Most of us have heard this in the form of, “the dose makes the poison.” Check out the infographics on ChemicalSafetyFacts.org for some interesting points that demonstrate Paracelsus’ statements.

A 5. The answer is (F), All of these. Some influenza vaccines are produced in eggs. As described in question 2, gelatin from pigs is used in some vaccines. A protein isolated from the serum of cows, known as bovine serum albumin, is used during the growth process for some viral vaccines, and a cell line isolated in 1958 from the kidney of a cocker spaniel is used to grow the influenza vaccine known as Flucelvax®. Because this influenza vaccine is not grown in eggs, some people with severe allergic reactions to egg protein may opt for Flucelvax. However, most people do not need to avoid influenza vaccines made in eggs because the levels of egg protein that remain are not sufficient to cause a reaction.

Thinking about how we can use products from other species to create vaccines that protect our children and families, reminds me of Dr. Maurice Hilleman. The most accomplished vaccinologist to ever live, Dr. Maurice Hilleman helped to develop more than half of the vaccines routinely given to infants today. What many people may not realize is that he also created the first vaccine against cancer. The vaccine was for chickens. It protected against a cancer called chicken lymphomatosis (otherwise known as Marek’s disease), and it revolutionized the chicken industry, making chickens affordable to most. However, the less expensive price of chickens was not what excited Dr. Hilleman the most. In discussing that vaccine, he said, “it was my repayment of the lifelong debt to the chicken.” So, during this month of vaccine observances, let’s celebrate the scientists —and the other species — that have helped make vaccines available to keep us healthy.

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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.