For those of you who don’t know, I researched and wrote the curriculum for an online vaccine education class called “Vaccines Demystified.” It is a class that aims to address many of the myths of vaccination that are circulating on the internet. It also lists all the data you need to make an informed decision regarding vaccination, including the actual risks of getting each vaccine preventable disease, compared with the risks of getting a vaccine adverse event.
One topic in the subject of vaccines that I find absolutely fascinating is that of aluminum as a vaccine adjuvant. I think this topic is so important that I have decided to share this video to everyone, regardless of whether you sign up for my vaccine class or not.
There are still a lot of question marks when it comes to aluminum in vaccines and whether it is really safe…listen/read to find out more!
Aluminum is a ubiquitous metal, which means it is found almost everywhere on the planet. Interestingly, it is the 3rd most common element!
It competes for binding and absorption with calcium, magnesium and iron (just look at the periodic table to figure out why).
Some people say “don’t be worried about aluminum in vaccines because we are exposed to aluminum every day and we’re fine.” Well that is sort of true, we are exposed to aluminum every day, but most of that is oral exposure, and the vast majority of oral aluminum exposure is NOT absorbed (0.3%). Of that tiny fraction, 95% is eliminated through the kidneys (renally).
It is only when you bypass the gastrointestinal system (i.e., you inject it), OR when the kidneys are compromised that aluminum (normally) builds up in the system. In other words, like in I.V. infusions. This happens a lot in dialysis patients because aluminum is a frequent byproduct/contaminant of dialysis solutions. In these situations there is retention of 40% of aluminum in adults and 75% in neonates.
We know that when aluminum toxicity occurs it causes bone disease (osteomalacia and osteoporosis). We also know that it can cause dialysis encephalopathy (really bad brain changes). The half life of aluminum in the human brain is 7 years. SEVEN years! (It takes 7 years for half of the aluminum to get out of the brain! That’s a long time!) Here’s my reference.
So what does the literature say about aluminum toxicity? Well, nothing for sure. People are hypothesizing in literature that aluminum can cause Alzheimer-like neurofibrillary tangles. Some folks are speculating that aluminum may be involved in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Others think it may be linked to Parkinson’s disease. None of this has been fleshed out in the literature, so we can’t say for sure.
What we do know is that true aluminum toxicity (mostly from studying dialysis patients) causes microcytic anemia, osteomalacia and dyslipidemia (in other words: blood problems, bone problems and cholesterol problems). However, the incidence of aluminum toxicity is estimated to be extremely low.
Okay, so why the heck is aluminum in our vaccines anyways?
Aluminum is considered a vaccine adjuvant. It is in our vaccines in order to stimulate an immune response. Basically, for the vaccines that are not live viruses (or bacteria), we need something to trigger an immune response. Because – just injecting it by itself isn’t inflammatory enough to do anything. (Basically the body sees what is in the vaccine and says – “Great! – See ya!”) So they add aluminum to the vaccine to make it more inflammatory.
The way it is more inflammatory is that causes cell death and releases cell DNA into the bloodstream. So what’s the (possible) problem with this? Well, anytime you release protein (cellular contents) into the bloodstream there is a chance that you can create antibodies against whatever is around – in this case, DNA. (Obviously DNA is not protein – it sounds a little misleading in the video, sorry about that.)
Other authors in literature have noted that aluminum in vaccines causes the skewing toward a Th2 immune response. (Read my explanation of Th2 immune response and its link to asthma, allergies and eczema here.) Does that explain the increase in asthma and allergies in the last few decades? We don’t know. There are a lot of question marks here in the aluminum section of the talk.
So…is it safe?
The FDA recommends limiting aluminum exposure to 5 mcg per kilogram per day. For an average (rounded a bit) 2 month old infant who may be starting his/her immunization schedule (weighing ~5 kilograms or 11 pounds) that equates to 25 mcg (micrograms) per day. (5×5 = 25, got it?)So how much aluminum is in vaccines? (this was pulled straight from the manufacturer’s package inserts in March of 2013, it is possible to change in the future)
- HepB (Hepatitis B) = 250 mcg (Engerix or Recombivax)
- Rotavirus = 0 mcg (oral vaccine)
- DTaP (diptheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis) = ranges from 170 mcg (Tripedia), 330 mg (Daptacel), 625 (Infarix)
- HiB (Haemophilus influenzae B. This is NOT the flu vaccine.) = 225 mcg (PedvaxHIB), or 0 mcg (ActHIB)
- PCV (Pneumococcal) = 125 mcg (Prevnar-13)
- IPV (inactivated polio) = 0 mcg
- MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) = 0 mcg
- Varicella (Chickenpox) = 0 mcg
- Hep A (Hepatitis A) = 250 mcg (HAVRIX and VAQTA)
And combination vaccines:
- COMVAX (Hib + HepB) = 225 mcg
- Pediatrix (DTaP + HepB + IPV) = 850 mcg
- Pentacel (DTaP + IPV + Hib) = 330 mcg (note: the package insert says it has 1500 mcg of aluminum phosphate, which is equivalent to 330 mcg of elemental aluminum)
So our limit is 25 mcg per day for a 2 month child, compared with the aluminum amount in each of these vaccines.
So is there any safety research?
No. (Dr. Erika laughs ironically. Sigh.)
So there is a little bit of research in preterm infants about exposure to aluminum via parenteral feeding. We know that infants fed with parenteral nutrition (contaminated with aluminum) retained aluminum up to 75%. More than 10 days of exposure meant that they had neurological problems. They are also going to have bone problems as adolescents (that is very well researched at this point).
They also have impaired neurological development. Preterm infants fed with aluminum-contaminated parenteral nutrition lose 1 point per day on the Bayley Mental Development Index. The long-term neurological consequences have not yet been studied, but we know that low Bayley scores leads to increased risk for future educational problems.
So I don’t know how much aluminum contamination there is in these formulas – but it is pretty safe to assume that the levels are much higher than in vaccines. But this is all the data we have about aluminum exposure in infants.
There are also some researchers who are concerned – that because aluminum releases DNA – vaccines may be triggering autoimmune diseases. (also read here, here, here, here, here and here.) This is another question – we don’t have any data to back this hypothesis up, just a number of case reports and curious scientists. (By the way, researchers are calling this the “autoimmune/auto-inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants” or “ASIA” for short.)
So here’s my conclusions about aluminum in vaccines:
We don’t know.
At this point in the video you will probably hear me talking with my class. One very astute pupil brought up the difference between elemental aluminum and aluminum phosphate – it is a great question of whether elemental aluminum has anywhere near the same detrimental effects as aluminum phosphate. I don’t have an answer to that question, but most of the research I pulled also assumed exposure to aluminum phosphate or another aluminum-containing compound. I would love if a good chemist (or biochemist) could chime in here!
So that’s the end of the presentation and my data for you. It is a bit of an underwhelming finish to the video – I wish I could tell my patients (and readers) exactly what to do about vaccines, but the answer isn’t so simple. For the record, I am not an anti-vaccine doctor. I have vaccinated my own child, and I administer vaccines in my private practice as well.
It’s quite possible that the aluminum content in vaccines is completely safe. However, it is also possible, given the lack of research, that aluminum as an adjuvant is not the best choice. What is clear is that there is concern in the scientific community, as well as calls for research on safety and the development of other adjuvants.
What are your thoughts? (Please keep it respectful.)