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Vaccines: What's Right for Your Baby?

Question: Do vaccines contain toxic ingredients?

Along with weakened or killed viruses or bacteria, vaccines also contain preservatives and agents called adjuvants that stimulate an immune response. Some parents worry about the adjuvant aluminum, which is found in several new vaccines. Pediatrician Robert Sears, M.D., a co-author of the Sears Parenting Library and author of The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child, is concerned about the lack of scientific evidence to confirm that aluminum is safe for infants when injected. He notes that doctors delay those vaccines containing aluminum for premature babies in neonatal intensive care units until they reach a certain weight because it may damage brains and nervous systems that are not fully developed. For those reasons, Sears recommends his patients limit the aluminum-containing vaccines to one per month.

The amount of aluminum and other ingredients being given to babies in vaccines has scared away some parents entirely. "Something is causing so many children to be diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, autism, allergies, and other diseases and disorders," says Samantha Remeny of Brentwood, California, who has opted not to immunize her 13-month-old son. "I believe that the vaccines that contain neurotoxins like aluminum, and the massive vaccination schedule recommended by the CDC, are at the root of the problem." Remeny once worked in sales at a pharmaceutical company and knows how important it is to read the package inserts and understand the risk of adverse reactions. "When you read the ingredients of these vaccines, it's scary to see that they routinely use substances -- aluminum, ammonia and formaldehyde -- that can cause neurological damage," she says. "There was a big deal a couple of years back about aluminum in deodorants and a possible link to Alzheimer's disease, so if a topical preparation containing aluminum [raised red flags], why would an injection be any safer?"

Facts: "If you dig a little deeper, you'll find that all of the ingredients in vaccines have been studied and found to be safe and nontoxic," says Brown of the AAP. Aluminum, for example, is not like the foil you use in the kitchen but is a type of salt whose role is to provoke the body into mounting an immune response. Not only do we get aluminum from our environment -- in air, water, soil, formula, even breast milk -- but research on animals shows that after aluminum is injected, the body effectively and rapidly eliminates it. "Although aluminum salts in a vaccine do circulate through the bloodstream, most of it binds to a protein called transferrin that then carries it out to the kidneys, where it gets eliminated in urine," Brown explains. "Fifty percent of the aluminum in vaccines -- as well as from food -- comes out in your pee in less than 24 hours." (Some 85 percent is gone in two weeks, and 96 percent is gone within three years.)

The formaldehyde in vaccines is not the same stinky stuff from your high-school anatomy class. This type actually occurs naturally in the body as a byproduct of metabolism, and there's more already in your system than in any vaccine. "These ingredients are not put in there willy-nilly," Brown says. "They're probably more studied than Tylenol."

Rebecca Leibowitz of Scotch Plains, New Jersey, works in research and development for a medical device company and is aware of the rigor that pharmaceuticals -- including vaccinations -- go through to earn FDA approval. "I know that substantial proof of safety is required," says the mother of two boys, 6 and 4. "And just as I look to a professional plumber to recommend the best water heater for my house, I also look to a professional pediatrician to recommend what's best for my children."