Dear VaccineSmarts,

I try to limit my exposure to aluminum because my grandmother developed Alzheimer’s disease in her early 50s.

I am pregnant and expecting a son. My concern is that many vaccines contain aluminum. Should I avoid getting those vaccines for my son? Is it a good idea to delay those vaccines until he is older?

Jennifer

Santa Fe


Dear Jennifer,

Aluminum is very common in our environment. It is the third most-abundant element in the Earth’s crust. It is present in the food and water that we eat and drink.

Interestingly, aluminum was found to stimulate the immune system and it has been included in vaccines for more than 70 years. Adding aluminum makes it possible for a lower dose of vaccine to be used and fewer doses of the vaccine are required.

There is only a tiny amount of aluminum in vaccines. An aluminum-containing antacid tablet contains 1,000 times more aluminum than a vaccine. Aluminum used in vaccines has been well studied and there is no evidence that it poses any risk.

Most of the public concern about aluminum can be traced to a controversial study that found increased aluminum in the brains of people who had died from Alzheimer’s disease. Because of this study, some people began avoiding beverages from aluminum cans, cooking in aluminum pots and pans and using aluminum containing antiperspirants and antacids.

Researchers tried to confirm the results by doing additional studies. Some of the studies showed increased aluminum in brains from Alzheimer’s disease victims but other studies did not. The difference may have been that the aluminum did not all come from the brain tissues being studied. Instead, some could have come from the special substances used in the laboratory to study brain tissue.

When those follow-up studies were inconclusive, researchers tried to address the issue another way. They looked at whether people with increased exposure to aluminum were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Again, the studies didn’t find a clear association between Alzheimer’s and aluminum.

The majority of experts do not believe that everyday sources of aluminum pose a threat. The Alzheimer’s Association and Alzheimer’s Society believe that there is insufficient evidence to justify avoiding everyday sources of aluminum including vaccines.

People who receive large doses of aluminum for months or years and have poorly functioning kidneys can develop bone abnormalities, anemia and brain dysfunction. They have aluminum levels in their bloodstreams that are at least 100 times those of healthy people.

So let’s get back to your son. Babies receive a total of 4 milligrams of aluminum from all the vaccines given in the first six months of life. In comparison, babies fed breast milk receive about 10 milligrams, while those fed formula receive from 40-120 milligrams during the same six-month period.

A milligram isn’t much. It is about the weight of 1/50 of a drop of water. The amount in the vaccines is so small that there is no detectable change in the level of aluminum in baby’s blood following vaccination.

More importantly, the vaccine aluminum doesn’t remain in the body very long. Once it enters the blood stream, the kidneys get rid of it quickly. About half is gone within 24 hours and three-quarters is eliminated within two weeks. As time goes by, virtually all of it is eliminated. So, 4 milligrams is not much, especially when it is spread out over six months.

We understand your concern. In the big picture, it does not appear that delaying or avoiding vaccines will significantly lower your baby’s exposure to aluminum.

It is best to vaccinate your son following the recommended schedule to protect your son from suffering from severe and potentially fatal diseases.

Congratulations. We wish you a smooth pregnancy and a happy healthy baby.

Vaccine Smarts

Dr. Richard Rupp is a pediatrician and member of UTMB’s Sealy Center for Vaccine Development. Bridget Hawkins, Ph.D. is the assistant director of the SCVD. This column is supported by a UTMB President’s Cabinet Award to provide information about vaccines. Visit www.utmb.edu/scvd/vac

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