Aluminum is used in vaccines as an adjuvant, which is a substance mixed with an antigen from a virus that triggers an inflammatory response and protective antibodies.
Aluminum-based adjuvants continue to cause concern among scientists, and the research is growing calling for eliminating aluminum from vaccines. Let’s take a look at how aluminum has been used, how its use has changed over the years, and some succinct quotes from scientific research.
Overview of alum and aluminum in vaccine adjuvants
Aluminum-containing adjuvants are often simply referred to as “alum.” This term can be misleading. Alum is the name of a specific chemical compound, hydrated potassium aluminum sulfate, KAl(SO4)2·12 H2O. A precipitate of alum and an antigen was originally used in preparing aluminum-adjuvanted vaccines. The chemical composition of the aluminum precipitate depended on the types of ions in the antigen solution.
However, this method proved to have inconsistent results. Thus, it has been mostly replaced by the adsorption of antigens into aluminum-containing gels.
Another reason to not use the term alum is that it is too general. It does not tell you which type of aluminum-containing adjuvant was used in preparing the vaccine for delivery.
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