Health Matters: Common vaccine myths and what the anti-vaccinationists fail to mention, part 3

October 9, 2013

Editor’s note: Part one of this series appeared in the March 13-19, 2013, issue. Part two appeared in the April 10-16, 2013, issue.

By Zachary Crees & Shawn Joseph
Medical students and members of the student group, Physicians for Social Responsibility, University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford

Vaccines contain toxins and poisons

Intro: Previously, we explored the myths “the annual flu vaccine causes Alzheimer’s” and “childhood immunizations cause autism,” concluding vaccines are safe and effective. Now, we discuss another common anti-vaccinationist myth, “Vaccines contain toxins and poisons.” Frequently employed by anti-vaccinationists, these claims sometimes appear authentic. However, closer examination reveals these myths are NOT based on scientific evidence.

First, we highlight an important pharmacological principle: “the dose makes the poison.” For example, many take Tylenol (acetaminophen) as directed for headaches or fevers. However, taking 50 Tylenol at once can cause liver damage and death. Tylenol can be both a useful medicine and a cause of overdose poisoning. The difference is the dose, which is essential when assessing toxicity. Just as Tylenol is safe when used as directed, vaccine components are safe at approved levels.


The myth: Thimerosal in vaccines is mercury and all mercury is poisonous.

The facts: This myth originates from lacking chemistry knowledge; not all mercury is created equal. Thimerosal contains ethylmercury, and no credible scientific evidence exists linking ethylmercury from vaccines to adverse health effects. Ethylmercury readily passes through the body. Furthermore, thimerosal was eliminated from nearly all vaccine formulas 14 years ago. Still, thimerosal appears on anti-vaccine “toxin” lists. The most common exposure to “harmful” methylmercury comes from fish consumption and can cause health risks. Ethylmercury and methylmercury are functionally very different molecules.


The myth: Vaccines contain antifreeze, a toxic chemical.

The facts: Antifreeze ingestion is dangerous and can precipitate kidney failure and death. However, vaccines DON’T contain antifreeze, nor have they ever. Antifreeze contains ethylene glycol, which anti-vaccinationists mistakenly confuse with polyethylene glycol, an ingredient used in vaccine manufacturing. Even at levels much higher than those found in vaccines, polyethylene glycol has NOT been shown to be harmful. Polyethylene glycol is widely used by millions in laxatives, common medicines and even lubricating eye drops on a daily basis. Despite similar names, polyethylene glycol is chemically and functionally different than ethylene glycol (aka: antifreeze).

Aluminum/heavy metals

The myth: Vaccines contain aluminum/heavy metals that accumulate as toxins in the body.

The facts: Vaccines are NOT “full” of heavy metals. The only commonly used metal in vaccines is aluminum. Aluminum is an “adjuvant,” added to vaccines to improve effectiveness. Federal regulations limit aluminum content in vaccines to 0.85 to 1.25 mg. The average human body contains 30 to 50 mg and eliminates excess aluminum in urine. Healthy bodies naturally contain 30 to 50 times more aluminum than the average vaccine. Furthermore, aluminum is ubiquitous in the environment. The average person consumes more dietary aluminum in food and water than by adequate vaccination.


The myth: Formaldehyde exposure from vaccines is dangerous.

The facts: Vaccines contain trace amounts of formaldehyde. Formaldehyde “inactivates” live virus during vaccine production. Subsequently, the majority is removed, leaving only trace amounts. Nevertheless, reliable evidence suggests low-level exposure from vaccines is NOT harmful. Low levels of formaldehyde are virtually everywhere: the air, foods and numerous household items, including cosmetics, soaps, paper, plastics and wood products. Formaldehyde is even produced in trace amounts by our own metabolism. While repeatedly high exposure can be carcinogenic, low levels found in vaccines and in our everyday life are NOT considered dangerous.

The bottom line

Anti-vaccinationist “toxin and poison” lists are common and misleading. Close examination reveals these myths for what they are, myths. The dose makes the poison, concentration matters. Some vaccines contain ingredients that may be toxic at high concentrations. However, at low levels in vaccines, reliable scientific evidence suggests these ingredients are NOT a significant health risk. Therefore, the anti-vaccine myth “vaccines contain poisons and toxins” is inaccurate. The evidence suggests vaccines are safe and effective.


From the Oct. 9-15, 2013, issue


  1. autismepi

    October 9, 2013 at 8:31 am

    Many in the research community are becoming concerned that the acetaminophen that is given with vaccines and to pregnant women may be associated with autism spectrum disorder. Caution and more research is warranted.

  2. Tony Bateson

    October 9, 2013 at 10:31 am

    I believe some of your so called myths are entirely fictitious. If the Head of Chemistry at a major university says that Thimerosal in conjunction with testosterone is highly toxic and destroys neurons we don’t need any advice from your writer about chemistry knowledge. If neurons are damaged or destroyed the central nervous system is harmed and autism is the probable result.

    Tony Bateson

  3. No Brainer

    October 9, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    To autismepi: I wonder if you read and/or understood the articles you posted. To be clear, I doubt you did. First of all, acetaminophen has nothing directly to do with vaccines. Second, the first link you posted clearly explains those toxicities are related to “beyond normal therapeutic doses”… A point echoed in the above article. Third, it is a far cry to link the topoisomerase toxicity due to overdose of NAPQI to autism based on these disparate articles.

    To Tony Bates: you post, “I believe some of your so called myths are entirely fictitious”… Um??? Pause, think about it, realize that myths are by definition fictitious (myth: a widely held but FALSE belief or idea), and realize you sound pretty foolish. Moving on, what “head of chemistry” although I am sure that’s not even an official title? What “major university”, or is the institution you are referencing simply named Major University (some how I doubt it)? If you read the article, you might recall how it is mentioned that Thimerosal has been removed from nearly all vaccines. You might also realize that adding hormones and chemicals of unspecified doses together and pouring them on neurons is slightly different than administering a vaccine. Lastly, and to my pleasure, I have to ask how on earth damaging neurons in the CNS leads to a “probable result” of autism? Shall we say that every person with a concussion will probably develop autism? How about having a few alcoholic drinks? Are we expected to believe anyone who drinks in excess is on the fast track to autism? If that were so, we might see a dramatic rise in autism for all 19 year olds entering university.

    My point to both of the above mentioned individuals posting… Congratulations on the intellectual fail.

  4. autismepi

    January 3, 2014 at 10:04 pm

    To the completely arrogant “No Brainer” acetaminophen has plenty to do with vaccines. They are often administered together and acetaminophen can deplete the glutathione necessary for detoxification related to vaccines.

    The FDA itself has said acetaminophen’s narrow safety margin places “a large fraction of users close to a toxic dose in the ordinary course of use.”(1) Infants are particularly susceptible, given their underdeveloped glucuronidation pathway(2). Additionally, children with autism have been shown to have diminished sulfation capacity compromising the second major metabolic route. Once these two routes are saturated, acetaminophen can be converted to toxic NAPQI which depletes glutathione and is a topoisomerase poison(3,4).

    You will be seeing new research on the topoisomerase enzyme, autism and acetaminophen connection in a few months.

    Since my first post, a new, well controlled study found that prolonged use of acetaminophen during pregnancy was associated with severe adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes(autism phenotypes)in three year olds (5). We do not yet have studies looking at use by infants but a number are in progress.






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