Fact-checking: Why context matters

Fact-checking: Why context matters

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Although vaccines may contain mercury, formaldehyde and aluminium, there’s no cause for concern. 

By Pratibha

There are several stories on social media claiming that vaccines contain “dangerous” materials, such as aluminium, mercury, formaldehyde, cells from aborted foetuses, bovine and pig serum. While the claims may be (mostly) accurate, the intent is not to educate but to spread fear. Context and tone of the message are as important as the fact itself. 

If you look back at the history of vaccine development, you’ll see that the ingredients mentioned in the social media post are adjuvants. They are meant to stimulate a stronger immune response in people receiving the vaccine. 

Dr. Pallavali Roja Rani, postdoctoral scientist, Korean National University of Transportation, South Korea and former virologist and specialist in microbiology at VRDL Lab, Kurnool Government Medical College, India, agrees that development of safe and effective vaccines increasingly involve the use of adjuvants.

A vaccine comprises two components - antigens and adjuvants. “Antigens are nothing but foreign particles that have the capacity to induce our immune system. The total molecule does not act as the antigen; only some portions present in the molecule are antigenic in nature and are called epitopes or antigenic determinants. During the preparation of the vaccine, these epitopic regions are combined with some substances called adjuvants as appropriate molecular weight is very important to attain a reaction from the immune system,” explains the scientist. 

“Vaccine adjuvants play an efficient role to increase the molecular mass and thereby the capacity to slowly release antigens that stimulate the immune system. There are no dangerous side-effects to adjuvants as per my knowledge,” she added. 

In other words, adjuvants are not as “dangerous” as the social media posts may have you believe. It’s important to also consider the context and not just the facts. 

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