Common Anti-Vaccination Myths and Misconceptions

March 13, 2008 by
Filed under: General, News, Vaccine Myths, Vaccine Science 


1. Antifreeze is an ingredient in vaccines: (False) Antifreeze is ethylene glycol. I have not seen ethylene glycol listed on one single vaccine ingredients list ever. What I have seen are:

Phenoxyethanol is in DTaP, Hep A and B,Td, IPV but is not the same chemical makeup as ethylene glycol and is an organic chemical compound. We found information pointing to phenoxyethanol as toxic.

Here is the MSDS:

This isn’t antifreeze. Do you want it injected into your infant? Many thanks to Helen Tucker’s helpful comment below.

EDTA (ethylene-diamine-tetraacetic-acid ) is an amino acid, also used as a preservative in the Rabies and Varicella (chickenpox) vaccines.

EDTA is also used in chelation therapy, dentistry, as an anticoagulant, and many other things. The official definition per the Merriam Webster Medical Dictionary is:

A white crystalline acid C10H16N2O8 used in medicine as an anticoagulant and as a chelator in the treatment of lead poisoning — called also ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid.

Polyethylene glycol, found in Fluzone, is a surface acting agent (surfactant). Here is a good, clear description of the properties of surfactants. They are often used to “link” together two substances with very different properties (like oil and water) making a mixture with the same composition throughout (homogenization). Polyethylene glycol is used in everything from laxatives (GlycoLax, TriLyte, Colyte) to toothpaste. Additionally, according to this study, it is also used to help B-cells repair severed myelinated axons. Columbia Encyclopedia includes an interesting blurb about polyethylene glycol (PEG) in it’s section regarding glycol.

It can also be attached to other molecules via a process called pegylation. When pegylated to medicinal drugs, it can alter their distribution in the body, metabolism, and excretion. Such alteration can lead to improved dosing intervals and may also have beneficial effects on safety and efficacy. Pegylation can also mask certain drugs, such as interferon, from the immune system, preventing their rejection.

Polyoxyethylene nonylphenol, an ingredient in Fluvarin, assists in the permeation of biological membranes. In the database at, it is shown as being synonymous with polyethylene glycol and would share the properties of a surfactant. Polyoxyethylene nonylphenol is considered a hydrophobe. Water repells it, and tends to have a higher contact angle when resting on it. (Basically, this means that when water meets the polyoxyethylene nonylphenol, it will simply rest on the surface- seperating itself as much as possible. This is directly opposite to when water meets a substance that is hydrophilic. When this happens, water completely spreads out on the solid surface and the contact angle is nearly 0 degrees).

Polyoxyethylene nonylphenol is most often used as an emulsifier or a solubilizer. Emulsion is the mixture of two (or more) usually unblendable substances. Solubilizers are used in the pharmaceutical industry to increase bioavailability of drugs (in this case vaccines) with otherwise low solubility. (Solubility is the maximum amount of x that can be dissolved into y at z temperature).

The “antifreeze” error is something of an “urban myth of vaccines” and was born out of a misunderstanding of the ethylene chemical compounds.

Alas, all that is ethylene is not antifreeze.

2. Vaccines contain formaldehyde: (True) However, formaldehyde used in vaccines does not have the same chemical properties as the formaldehyde mixtures used in building materials or the burial process, given that chemical reactions and/or hindrances may have taken place. Vaccines utilize formaldehyde that is identical to the substance found naturally in our bodies as a metabolic byproduct of methanol. (It is commonly excreted in our urine as waste or converted into formalin).

Formaldehyde is frequently used in conjunction with other synthetic chemical compounds. These compounds, solutions, gasses, or resins can be, and often are, toxic.

As a result, when most people hear formaldehyde is in vaccines, they automatically think of the stinky chemical in plywood; an unfortunate error in the anti-vaccination community. This misunderstanding was compounded by FEMA’s recent statements regarding the formaldehyde levels in the trailers provided to Katrina refugees, which in fact was referencing urea-formaldehyde resin commonly used in composite wood products.

Hopefully these chemical formulas will make things clearer:

Formaldehyde in our bodies = H2CO (natural)
Formaldehyde in vaccines = H2CO (synthetic)
Formaldehyde in embalming fluid = H2CO+CH3OH+CH3CH2OH+solvents
Formaldehyde in plywood = H2CO+NH2CONH2+CH3OH+HCOOH+H2O

As you can see, trying to explain the different physical states and chemical properties of formaldehyde is almost like trying to explain the presence of water (H2O) in fog, tap water, ocean water, and mud.

3. The influenza vaccine increases our risk of Alzheimer’s Disease exponentially: (False) This statement was made in 1997 by Dr. Hugh Fudenburg during a speech at the NVIC International Vaccine Conference in Arlington, Virginia, and immediately began making the rounds. Specifically, he said that if a person received consecutive influenza vaccines the chance of getting Alzheimer’s was 10 times greater than if they’d received one, two or none. Upon being questioned, he stated that the accumulation of mercury and aluminum in our brains causes cognitive dysfunction.

Dr. Fudenburg’s evidence was never verified, presented, or documented. His statement was not based on any type of scientific evidence, it was merely a doctor’s personal speculation.

4. There is thimerosal (mercury) in the MMR: (False) Thimerosal, an ethylmercury compound, is not and never has been an ingredient in the MMR.

A simplified list of the MMR-II ingredients are as follows (more specifics can be found in the MMR-II manufacturer’s insert):

Amino Acids,
Bovine Albumin or Serum,
Chick Embryo Fibroblasts,
Human Serum Albumin,
Phosphate Buffers,
Sodium Chloride,

Nowhere is thimerosal or ethylmercury to be seen. As thimerosal is typically used as a preservative in vaccines, it would have been listed if it were present, including trace amounts. In fact, thimerosal would kill the live virus, so is not used in any live virus vaccine. One can definitively say there is no mercury in the current MMR vaccine.

5. Vaccines are injected into the bloodstream: (False) Vaccines are either injected subcutaneously, injected intramuscularly, given by mouth, i.e. orally (ex. RotaTeq) or squirted up the nose, i.e. intranasally (ex. FluMist). At this point, no vaccines are recommended for injection into your bloodstream via the intravenous method. The CDC Pinkbook includes a Vaccine Administration section (Appendix D Page 5), which demonstrates the correct route of administration for each vaccine.

Since subcutaneous and intramuscular vaccines are injected directly into the body, and antigens and other components are taken into the bloodstream via the lymphatic system (in order to spur antibody production through hyperstimulation of the Th2/humoral response) without passing through our ordinary immune defences, people often erroneously state that vaccines are injected directly into the bloodstream.

Next time: Common Pro-Vaccination Myths and Misconceptions


19 Comments on Common Anti-Vaccination Myths and Misconceptions

  1. Epi Wonk on Sat, 9th Aug 2008 3:15 pm
  2. This is a superb post. It concerns me that I’m the first commenter (4 months post-post, as it were). The unfortunate fact is that “Inside Vaccines” is believed throughout the blogosphere to be an “anti-vaxxer” website — by people of various points of view. I myself tbought so until Hilary Butler set me straight.

    It seems you guys aren’t big fans of PR and “framing,” but something has to be done about your reputation. I don’t mean this analogy to be sexist, but this reminds me of the classic situation of the poor innocent junior high school girl who gets a reputation as a “slut” just because her breasts are large.

    Don’t know of a solution off-hand.

  3. MinorityView on Sat, 9th Aug 2008 5:19 pm
  4. Hi Epi Wonk,

    We don’t really worry hugely about the number of comments we receive or don’t receive about our blog posts. Insidevaccines has a nicely developed link distribution system. Our team puts up links to our articles on a variety of forums. Anytime one of us sees a relevant discussion we pop up a link. All of our articles, even some which are quite old are still in circulation via this elegant system. One of the advantages of producing a blog as a team, rather than as a single hot-shot!

    As far as our reputation as an anti-vaccine blog, ad hominem attacks always reflect more on the attackers than on the attacked. Recently someone posted a link to our series on the problem of serotype replacement with bacterial vaccines on a forum (which will remain unnamed). The opponent in the debate refused to read the series, stating that they didn’t want to risk confusion by reading anti-vaccine propaganda. People who think that way are hopeless…and definitely not our target audience.

  5. Jupiter on Sat, 9th Aug 2008 5:53 pm
  6. That was me that set you straight, not Hilary…haha…(I’m not her)

    You know, people are going to think whatever they want to think. Extremists are always going to want to project extremism onto others. We’re not really “in” the blogosphere “loop” too much anyway, I don’t think. We’re more of a resource for people who aren’t in the market to sign up with a fanatical “team” in the vaccination debate.

  7. Marconi on Sat, 9th Aug 2008 6:40 pm
  8. Congratulations, Epiwonk, on admitting that something written here has some value. Perhaps you will read elsewhere and evaluate other articles with an open mind.

    Of course Inside Vaccines will be considered anti-vaccine.

    Isn’t anyone, who brings up any valid questions about basic issues that might possibly impact on how parents make choices?

    You should know, Epiwonk, that vaccine defenders specialize in OPINION about others, not the FACTs contrary to their own opinions.

    Why don’t those people who consider Inside Vaccine’s arguments so “bad” come and redirect if they think Inside Vaccines facts are wrong?

    Probably because the thought of admitting they might be wrong, and Inside Vaccines might be right, would mean re-evaluating the possibility that their personal decisions might have been swayed by flawed fallacies.

    AS MV said. We don’t care what other people think. The people we parents care about, are other parents in similar positions to ourselves.

  9. trock71 on Tue, 10th Feb 2009 1:19 pm
  10. 4. There is thimerosal (mercury) in the MMR: (False) Thimerosal, an ethylmercury compound, is not and never has been an ingredient in the MMR.

    Who am I supposed to believe, you or my government? I don’t trust them either. This must be a pharmablog

  11. MinorityView on Tue, 10th Feb 2009 2:51 pm
  12. Love it! This is the first time we’ve been accused of being a pharmablog. I’ll have to share that on some of the forums where we’ve been dismissed as “anti-vaccine.”

    Seriously, though, I went and looked at your link and it doesn’t say anything at all about MMR and thimerosal. Please explain your point a bit further so I can figure out how to respond appropriately. Thanks.

  13. Marconi on Wed, 11th Feb 2009 6:32 pm
  14. trock71, where in that link you put up, does it say MMR has mercury in it? Or do you need us to walk you through that document with a tooth comb?

  15. Helen Tucker on Wed, 13th Jan 2010 3:31 pm
  16. Mistaking Phenoxyethanol for antifreeze is an understandable mistake, since its common name is “ethylene glycol monophenyl ether.” Parents see “ethylene glycol…” and think, “Wow, is there antifreeze in the vaccine?” Of course, they don’t really care about the freezing point of the substance. What they really mean is, “Wow, is there something as toxic as antifreeze in the vaccine?”

    The answer is yes. Phenoxyethanol has a lower oral LD50 for rats than ethylene glycol. So the bottom line is, it doesn’t matter that phenoxyethanol has different chemical properties than ethylene glycol and cannot be used to keep our car fluids from freezing. The only chemical property that matters is that it has similar, if not higher, toxicity levels as ethylene glycol.

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  19. Anonymous on Sun, 30th May 2010 3:25 am
  20. Thanks for your info. I’ve been nosying around a few vax forums in my research endeavours and it’s hard to weed out the wheat from the chaff a lot of the time there is so much playground politicking clouding the waters for concerned parents like meself who just want to get to the bottom of things.

    I get it is a complex area fraught with agenda, but with valid arguments on both sides. Nice to stumble across info/pages like this…cheers

  21. KWombles on Mon, 18th Oct 2010 3:57 am
  22. I posted a link to this article on Kim Stagliano’s latest Huffington Post piece where once again crazy nonsense like the whole antifreeze gambit is being trotted out.

  23. Autism & Oughtisms on Sat, 25th Dec 2010 11:25 pm
  24. Really fantastic site, and a very useful post. You manage to present important information in a very accessible way. I have learnt more from reading through your blog – specifically about the truths and myths of autism which is of personal relevance to my life – than I have in years of trawling through the internet. Thank you!

  25. maureeen on Sun, 5th Jun 2011 11:16 pm
  26. Is squalene a natural material to be found in the human body as formaldehyde is?

  27. admin on Mon, 6th Jun 2011 9:44 am
  28. Yes, it is. However, that doesn’t guarantee that using it in vaccines won’t trigger problems. Here is a presentation at an FDA meeting which raises concerns about adjuvants and another

    Finally, here is the page where you can look at the actual discussions from the meetings

    I think the best you can say is that safety hasn’t been demonstrated.

    […] This blog discusses the ingredients that are usually pulled up by the anti-vaccination movement. Something to keep in mind also when throwing the word “Poison” around is that a poison is in […]

  29. Pensive on Tue, 6th Sep 2011 11:47 am
  30. @Trock71 – I realize I am just a few years behind this comment thread:), but I am confused at the link you gave:

    Public Health Agency of Canada:

    You state in your comment above:

    ‘4. There is thimerosal (mercury) in the MMR: (False) Thimerosal, an ethylmercury compound, is not and never has been an ingredient in the MMR.’

    Who am I supposed to believe, you or my government? I don’t trust them either. This must be a pharmablog.” trock71 on Tue, 10th Feb 2009 1:19 pm

    I searched through the documents listed on the page you linked. The direct link to the page you gave does talk about thimerosal, but no where on the page does it even mention MMR. Perhaps you can correct me if I have missed it.?

    I did some more digging on your link, thinking perhaps that it was buried in one of the other documents. There are three other documents linked on the page you posted:

    1) First link is titled “NACI Statement on Thimerosal – July 2007” in which it lists MMRII. The page provides a table on which vaccines contain thimerosal in “Preservative amounts,” which contain “trace amounts” and which contain “NONE” The MMRII is listed below the category of “NONE.”

    2) the second link off of the Public Health Agency of Canadian site you referenced on Thimerosal is entitled “Autism,” states nothing about either MMR or Thimerosal. It does have a list of links to other sites, but the Public Health Agency of Canadian page entitled “Autism” has no mention of thimerosal or MMR.

    3) The third link is entitled “EXPOSURE TO THIMEROSAL IN VACCINES USED IN CANADIAN INFANT IMMUNIZATION PROGRAMS, WITH RESPECT TO RISK OF NEURODEVELOPMENTAL DISORDERS” A quick [control F] search leads me to this quoted text (which by the way is the only mention of MMR:

    “Other routine childhood vaccines used in Canada, such as those for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) and PENTACELTM (for diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis, H. influenzae type b, and inactivated polio) ***do not*** contain thimerosal preservative(11)” [Asterisks mine]

    The direct link to this document can be found at the bottom of the page you linked and also here:

    So, perhaps you can understand my confusion at your link. Perhaps you accidentally posted the wrong link or misunderstood your own information? I haven’t been able to find the information you suggested, which leads me to deduce that you were mistaken either in your understanding or in the link you posted. Perhaps this seems nit picky, but I believe it is an important exercise for the sake of other readers.

  31. admin on Tue, 6th Sep 2011 12:19 pm
  32. Thanks for responding to that comment. I think it just was forgotten! I was able to incorporate the quote into your first comment so I deleted the other two.

  33. JohnB on Wed, 28th Nov 2012 4:25 pm
  34. There’s really no need to go searching the internet for the pros and cons of vaccination…JUST DO IT…it works, we know it works, it’s been repeatedly proven to work. Don’t be afraid, live in the modern world, trust medical science, and use something to protect your kids which has been long known to work at holding back diseases which used to mean parents had to watch their children die horribly in huge numbers. Smallpox is gone, in Australia, TB and Whooping Cough were almost gone until people started to get complacent and also listen to idiots telling them that things like Pertussis is a “mild childhood disease” and that they should make “an informed choice”. There should BE no “choice”…vaccinate your damn kids, just do it and protect them.

  35. website analysis report on Wed, 28th Nov 2012 6:47 pm
  36. Thanks JohnB. We appreciate your carefully referenced comment…

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