Thursday, September 24, 2009

Is there antifreeze in vaccines or not?

In "Toxic Myths About Vaccines," author David Gorski MD accuses anti-vaccinationists of outright lying about toxins in vaccines. He especially ridicules them for being "chemistry-challenged" on assertions regarding one particular toxin: antifreeze.
Here’s one example. The aforementioned Jenny McCarthy has been repeating that there is “antifreeze” in vaccines, as she did in the interview linked to earlier. That line is straight off of a number of antivaccination websites. (Amazingly Mr. Heckenlively managed to restrain himself from repeating “the “antifreeze in vaccines” gambit. I can only hope that it is due to intellectual honesty, although I can’t rule out the possibility that he just didn’t know about it.) One website in particular links to an MSDS about Quaker State Antifreeze/Coolant, the principal ingredients of which are ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol. Guess what? There’s no ethylene or diethylene glycol in vaccines.
Not so fast, Dr. Gorski. There IS ethylene glycol in vaccines. It's called 2-Phenoxyethanol, and is found in childhood vaccines Infanrix, Deptacel, Pediarix, and Ipol, amongst others. You see, the other name for 2-Phenoxyethanol is ETHYLENE GLYCOL monophenyl ether.

The MSDS on car antifreeze, the regular ethylene glycol, says that the lethal oral dose to kill 50% of rats is 4700 mg/kg. The MSDS on 2-Phenoxyethanol, the vaccine ethylene glycol, says the lethal oral dose to kill 50% of rats is 1260 mg/kg. Comparing apples to apples, the vaccine ethylene glycol is a lot more toxic than car antifreeze--to rats anyway.

The debate shouldn't be on whether ethylene glycol exists in vaccines. It does, period. The debate should be on whether this type of ethylene glycol and this amount of ethylene glycol can cause the same adverse reactions as those normally associated with car antifreeze.

It is a situation where both sides are bending and polarizing the truth to suit their own agendas, while parents looking for honest, straightforward, objective information are screwed. Is antifreeze in vaccines? Not exactly--not the kind we put in our cars. Aha, then antifreeze is NOT in vaccines? Not exactly--a type of ethylene glycol that is known to have similar (actually higher) levels of toxicity to car antifreeze is found in very small amounts in a number of childhood vaccines.

So word to the wise, parents. Do your own research. How do you sort it out, when both sides are liberal with the truth-bending?

1. Look for precision. Science is precise. It is not whether A is true or not true. Science defines A carefully, and then qualifies under what conditions A is true and not true. Anyone who gives you a simple "fact" is bending the truth, because reality is not simple.

2. Look for references. Someone says there is antifreeze in vaccines? What makes them say that? Someone says it is NOT in vaccines? Where all have they looked? Follow their research trail for arriving at that conclusion. (In this case, if they had looked under the right chemical names, they would have found it.)

3. Look for objectivity. Read the original research papers. Outline the "plot"--what did they do in the study? Now to tease out confirmation bias, blind yourself to the results. Switch the research findings so that the results come out the opposite of what you would like to believe. If the study finds no autism-vaccine connection, much to your relief, then pretend it did. If the study finds a strong autism-vaccine connection, as you knew it would, pretend it didn't find anything at all. Once the results are disagreeable, the flaws in the research design and methodology come leaping out like magic.

4. Trust no one but yourself. If you let other people do the thinking for you, then you'll just end up with other people's thoughts--and prejudices, and agendas. It's kind of obvious, but it needs to be said. This is what this blog is all about: think for yourself.

For further research:
Vaccine excipient table sorted by vaccine.


  1. This is the molecular structure of phenoxyethanol:

    This is the structure of ethylene glycol:

    Although there are some common features between these two molecules, there are some very important differences.

    Even a single atom can dramatically change the properties of a molecule. These two molecules differ by much more than a single atom. For one thing, phenoxyethanol would be completely useless as an antifreeze.

    The claim that there is antifreeze in vaccine is made because anti-vaccinationists have so little evidence that they can use against vaccines. This is among the strongest arguments they can make, and as anyone
    can see from the molecular structures, it is bogus.

  2. I agree that 2 phenoxyethanol is not antifreeze. I don't agree that 2 phenoxyethanol is not a type of ethylene glycol.

    So no, car antifreeze is not in vaccines. But it is an understandable confusion since the main ingredient in antifreeze, ethylene glycol, can be found in vaccines in a larger compound.

    But you miss the point. When a parent mistakenly says, "There is antifreeze in vaccines," they are not talking about molecular structures or melting points. They are saying they are worried about the well known toxicity associated with what they think is antifreeze.

    When doctors reassure them that antifreeze is not in vaccines, they are implying that antifreeze's toxicity is absent as well. But a more honest answer would be, "No, antifreeze is not in vaccines. But what you think is antifreeze, 2 phenoxyethanol, is more toxic than antifreeze." (See above linked MSDS.)

    So, comparing melting points or any other chemical properties of the 2 compounds is irrelevant in this context. The only meaningful comparison of the differences between Ethylene Glycol and Ethylene Glycol Monophenyl Ether (2phenoxyethanol) is how toxic they are. And a toxicity comparison will reveal similar if not higher risks, so whether one calls it "antifreeze" or some other name is irrelevant.

    Now if you want, reassure parents that no matter how toxic antifreeze or ethylene glycol monophenyl ether is, the amounts injected into their babies is so miniscule that they are safe. But don't say the toxic rat-killing chemical isn't there.

  3. Great analysis. In fact, the MSDS for 2-phenoxyethanol gives it a health hazard rating of 3. This is classified as "Extreme danger- Corrosive or toxic. Avoid skin contact or inhalation". It is further described as "Materials which upon short-term exposure could cause serious temporary or residual injury even though prompt medical treatment is given... Materials corrosive to living tissue or toxic by skin absorption."

    Antifreeze (ethylene glycol) only has a rating of 1 - for "Slightly hazardous- Materials which on exposure would cause irritation but only minor residual injury even if no treatment is given... Materials which on the skin could cause irritation without destruction of tissue."

    So apparently this one chemical in some vaccines is actually far more toxic than antifreeze, although there is less information available about it overall. And there is no information at all about the effects when it is taken by injection. All the data is for exposure by skin, ingestion, or inhalation - which is at least an order of magnitude less dangerous. So, though the amount in vaccines is very small, it is being injected directly into the bloodstream into a tiny baby along with other dangerous chemical and biological substances.

    In short, the pharmaceutical industry doesn't study indepth toxicokinetics of vaccines, and wants to keep it a mystery, it seems. Gorski and his army of internet trolls are more than willing to use any underhanded methods to cloud this complex and legitimate medical debate.