Claims That Vaccines Include Dangerous Levels of Aluminum Are False

Two-year-old Aiden Oliver receives a nasal spray vaccine during a doctor's visit in Atlanta, Georgia, September 29, 2023. (Photo by Alyssa Pointer/Washington Post/Getty Images)

Do common childhood vaccines contain levels of aluminum that are dangerous for infants? A post, which has spread widely on Facebook, claims that 21 different vaccines contain significantly higher aluminum content than the Food and Drug Administration’s “safe limit.”

This post is incorrect: The amount of aluminum contained in vaccines actually falls well below regulatory safety limits and does not pose a risk to healthy infants.

Why is aluminum used in vaccines?

Aluminum is used in some vaccines as an adjuvant, meaning a substance leveraged to strengthen the body’s immune response to an antigen. Adjuvants, including aluminum, have been used in vaccines for almost a century, and they allow for fewer doses or smaller quantities of antigens to be used in inoculation. 

Vaccines that use aluminum as an adjuvant contain a relatively small amount of the metal compared to typical levels of human consumption. For example, the pneumococcal vaccine—a four-dose immunization typically started when infants are 2 months old—contains about 0.125 milligrams of aluminum per dose, while the hepatitis B vaccine—often given at birth—contains between 0.225 milligrams and 0.5 milligrams in each of its three doses. According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Vaccine Education Center, a typical infant receives about 4.4 milligrams of aluminum from vaccines in their first six months, less than the 7 milligrams ingested through breastmilk or 38 milligrams from infant formula in the same time frame. Soy-based formula, which makes up 20 to 25 percent of the formula market, contains even higher levels of aluminum: almost 117 milligrams in six months of consumption. Adults ingest even higher levels of aluminum, between 7 and 9 milligrams of aluminum per day, mostly through food.

Is aluminum dangerous?

In a 2011 paper published in Elsevier, a Dutch academic publisher, researchers found that the amount of aluminum absorbed from vaccines and diet through the first year of an infant’s life is significantly less than regulatory safety limits for aluminum. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the minimal risk level for oral intake of aluminum is 1 milligram per day for every kilogram of body weight, far exceeding the 0.005 mg/kg/day “safe limit” referenced in the post. Likewise, the total aluminum contents of the 21 vaccines listed in the post is significantly less than the maximum amount allowed in an individual dose of a vaccine—1.25 milligrams per the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations.

Aluminum ingestion in high levels can pose serious health problems including anemia, bone weakening, and encephalopathy, but this does not occur in healthy persons who absorb aluminum through food, drink, and the environment. “The concerns that have been raised about aluminum are understandable at some level because high levels of aluminum can cause harm,” Paul Offit, pediatrician and co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine, told The Dispatch Fact Check. “But when you see that, you see it in people who have kidneys that don’t work well or at all who are receiving large quantities of aluminum either in intravenous fluids or antacids.” Aluminum is the third most abundant element on Earth and in its atmosphere, and it can be found in many foods, health products, and consumer goods. “You’re ingesting aluminum all the time, and that aluminum is absorbed into your bloodstream,” Offit explained. 

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