Patrick Holford and Aluminium in Vaccines

Former Visiting Professor Patrick Holford is still Head of Science and Education at Biocare so presumably they must believe that he enhances their reputation and scientific credibility. We are taking a multi-part look at Holford’s advice in “Vaccinations: what every parent needs to know” in 100%health Newsletter, No. 46, July 2008, pp. 5-8. We focus on Holford’s description of toxins in vaccines.

Mercury and Aluminium

HolfordWatch has previously discussed the lamentable state of Holford’s knowledge about thiomersal in vaccines (see, e.g., here and here). Holford uses emotive language in the newsletter (“extremely toxic”, “poisonous”, “highly toxic”) and it does not seem to match his implicit claim to be a source of unbiased information. At no point in his article does he acknowledge the common maxim that it is “the dose that makes the poison”: possibly related to this, Holford does not quantify the typical amounts in the vaccines under discussion.[a] Holford also fails to distinguish between different forms of mercury and aluminium such as organic and inorganic or elemental and salts; all of these differences influence the physiological impact. Holford writes (his references are here and we have JKN’d them):

Before 2004, vaccines routinely contained mercury (as Thimerosal), an extremely toxic metal, which may have contributed to the increase of children developing autism, hyperactivity, speech disorders and a number of other developmental problems. [JKN ref 2] Thankfully, this is no longer added…but another poisonous metal, aluminium, is still present in most vaccines available on the NHS. [JKN ref 3] Aluminium is also highly toxic and implicated in brain damage and behavioural problems in children. And worryingly, the addition of more vaccines to the immune schedule means that the quantity of aluminium given to babies is increasing….

[Holford advises parents to purchase private single or small combination baby vaccines.] Encouragingly, none of the single measles, mumps and rubella vaccines, the combination MMR or the Hib/Men C booster contain aluminium.

We have addressed the issue of Holford and ethyl mercury on previous occasions: we would also direct interested readers towards the National Network for Immunization Information’s discussion of mercury in vaccines and the WHO Statement on thiomerosal that states for well-nourished, full-term infants:

the GACVS concluded that the most recent pharmacokinetic and developmental studies do not support concerns over the safety of thiomersal (ethyl mercury) in vaccines. The Committee concluded, and advises accordingly, that there is no reason on grounds of safety to change current immunization practices with thiomersal-containing vaccines, as the risks are unproven.

In the midst of Holford’s alarming facts and rhetoric about aluminium, Holford neglected to mention that aluminum is ubiquitous in our environment and the third most common element of the earth’s crust[b]: we are primarily exposed to aluminum through the consumption of food items and beverages. It is regrettable that Holford does not explain that aluminium toxicity is related to the dose, the form, and the route of administration (e.g., inhaled, oral).[c] Interested readers might consult the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia resource on aluminium on vaccines:

The aluminum contained in vaccines is similar to that found in a liter (about 1 quart or 32 fluid ounces) of infant formula. While infants receive about 4.4 milligrams of aluminum in the first six months of life from vaccines, they receive more than that in their diet. Breast-fed infants ingest about 7 milligrams, formula-fed infants ingest about 38 milligrams, and infants who are fed soy formula ingest almost 117 milligrams of aluminum during the same period.

If anybody would like further information about the specific toxicokinetics of aluminium in either diet or vaccinations[1] then we recommend the analysis by Keith et al. who conclude that there is a brief increase in aluminium levels following a vaccination but that it is not sustained and clears rapidly.[d]

Holford does not mention or discuss the reason that aluminium is present in some vaccines. Aluminium salts are used as an adjuvant in vaccines. Adjuvants make a vaccine more effective; aluminium salts make some vaccine components more soluble.[e] Adjuvants stimulate the immune system by activating inflammasomes.[2] Overall, the benefit of this process is that it regulates the impact of certain antigens and moderates the scale and duration of the immune response.

Studies indicate that many vaccines with aluminium adjuvants provoke greater and more long-lived antibody responses than comparable vaccines that lack the adjuvant. This beneficial impact of adjuvants is typically obtained with the initial series of immunisations rather than with booster doses.[3]

Typically, three aluminum salts are used as adjuvants: the appropriateness and effectiveness of each salt as an adjuvant varies according to the specifics of a particular vaccine and the manufacturing process used to produce it.[4] One of the key roles of an adjuvant is to ensure that the antigen is clumped together with another substance (in this case, the aluminum salt) to keep the antigen at the site of injection where it triggers an appropriate immune response.[5],[f]

Holford is either disingenuous with his “encouragingly” comment or unaware that some vaccines do not contain and never have contained aluminium salts because:

  • not all vaccines need an adjuvant (e.g., an inactivated virus (inactivated polio virus IPV) or attenuated virus vaccine (MMR); for completeness, the varicella, meningococcal conjugate and flu vaccines)
  • for particular vaccines, they don’t enhance the desired immune response, or unbalance the immune response (e.g., although some first immunisations such as Hib and meningococcal C contain an adjuvant to prime the immune response, the booster shots do not).

You will note that Holford does not supply any reference for his assertion about aluminium and brain damage/behavioural problems in children. We hesitate to ascribe motive, but that may reflect the fact that most of the research literature on aluminium toxicity relates to very large doses and/or depicts a demographic that is exposed to this via kidney dialysis. Dr Dave Gorski discusses some of the usual canards about aluminium in vaccines and traces the origin of many of the scares back to Dr Hugh Fudenberg. (Dr Steve Novella addresses some of the mixed science around Fudenberg, aluminium and Alzheimer’s Disease.)

Holford expresses his apprehension about the amount of antigens to which infants are exposed without attempting to calculate:

  • the increase that would be necessary if aluminium were not used as an adjuvant
  • the number of antigens to which the average, healthy infant is exposed in a day

If he is proposing that parents should be alarmed by the presence of aluminium then it might have been helpful if he had quantified those comparisons or relative risks of preventable childhood diseases.

Holford expresses his concerns while using the empty rhetoric that he accepts the need for some vaccines but he wants them spread out (with no discussion of the consequences for a revised schedule) and states that some, such as whooping cough, are unnecessary and that a healthy immune system would “help [children] avoid catching diseases in the first place”. Holford also has a slightly confusing message about rubella vaccination that we shall discuss in a later post: on the first few readings, it is still coming across as Ayn Rand in its concentration on the self rather than participation in herd immunity for the wellbeing of the many.

Vaccinations prevent many cases of preventable childhood illnesses. They have prevented both the loss of life and a vast burden of disability following associated or secondary illnesses.

Please do not accept Holford’s inflammatory rhetoric about aluminium or thiomersal in vaccines without consulting a source that is better informed and less likely to rely upon mis-direction such as failing to quantify the amounts or discuss the role of aluminium as an adjuvant. As ever, the best source of information for any parent is the GP, Health Visitor or other appropriate healthcare provider.


[a] CHOP gives a useful table of typical quantities of aluminium per vaccine and also other, everyday things, such as breastmilk, infant formula or buffered aspirin. There is a draft toxicological profile for aluminium (pdf).
Oddly enough, given the hyperbolic language about ‘toxins’, in the same mailout as the newsletter, Holford included a Special Report: Salvestrols a major breakthrough in cancer prevention? It even describes salvestrols as plants’ “chemical warfare” to defend themselves against attack. But somehow, chemical warfare in this instance doesn’t equate to toxins. Oddly enough, because you can’t eat Holford’s recommended amount of salvestrols from diet alone, there is a recommendation for supplementation via food concentrates and pills.
So, that’s clear, thiomersal and aluminium in vaccines are toxins and the amount is irrelevant even if the latter is acting as an adjuvant and reducing the amount of antigens needed to stimulate a protective response. Salvestrols are “chemical warfare” but A Good Thing and anti-cancer and we don’t get enough of them so you should supplement your intake in extraordinary amounts because they are natural extracts from organic food and it is impossible that that could be harmful. So, that’s evil v. good chemical warfare.
On a related note, the NYT has just outlined GlaxoSmithKline’s dilemma. GSK could put SRT501, its resveratrol formulation, on the market right away, selling it as a nutritional pharmaceutical that does not require approval by the F.D.A. Claiming that it has medical value for health or longevity and promoting theraupeutic doses that are large enough to be effective would mandate clinical trials to establish safety and any unfortunate side-effects.
[b] Oxygen and silicon are the most abundant: aluminium makes up almost 9 percent of the earth’s crust. Aluminium is obtained from aluminium-containing minerals because it is always found in combination with other elements such as oxygen, silicon, and fluorine.
[c] A little tangential to this point but vaccines are typically introduced to the body via the extravascular space; we mention this because a lot of anti-vaccination rhetoric states or implies that vaccines are injected into the bloodstream.
[d] Keith et al. conclude:

Children are born with a systemic aluminum body burden, which is increased throughout life by the inhalation and dietary intake of aluminum compounds as well as by injections of vaccines and allergy treatments containing aluminum adjuvants. Those injections may produce localized reactions without systemic impact. The body burden associated with dietary uptake from either breast milk or formula during the first several months of life and from semisolid food during the remainder of that first year is estimated to reach approximately 0.1 mg. This value is lower than the estimated body burden of approximately 4mg that would result from consuming aluminum at a rate equal to the MRL of 2 mg/kg per day. The body burden attributable to vaccines may be expected to fall between the two except for a period of a few days following individual vaccinations.

[e] At the risk of sounding like we are rooting for a more science-y version of 70s TV series, we introduce the professional antigen-presenting cells (pAPCs). Adjuvants function in two main ways:

  • they bring about a pro-inflammatory state and encourage the infiltration of pAPCs: pAPCs take up the vaccine antigen (they can literally internalise it by an engulfing or coating and folding manoeuvre) and signal the immune system
  • they make antigens and components more soluble and therefore more accessible to pAPCs.

[f] Typically, after vaccines are injected, they remain at the site at a fairly high concentration until they are ‘inspected’ by the dendritic cells that are involved in assessing the appropriate response. To keep the antigens in place, they need to be clumped to (say) aluminium hydroxide: the aluminium hydroxide then acts as an adjuvant because the antigens are attached to it.


[1] Keith LS, Jones DE, Chou CH. Aluminum toxicokinetics regarding infant diet and vaccinations. Vaccine. 2002 May 31;20 Suppl 3:S13-7.
[2] Eisenbarth SC, Colegio OR, O’Connor W, Sutterwala FS, Flavell RA. Crucial role for the Nalp3 inflammasome in the immunostimulatory properties of aluminium adjuvants. Nature. 2008 Jun 19;453(7198):1122-6.
[3] Eickhoff TC, Myers M (2002). Workshop summary: Aluminum in vaccines. Vaccine, 20(Supplement 3):S1-S4. doi:10.1016/S0264-410X(02)00163-9
[4] Baylor NW, Egan W, Richman P (2002). Aluminum salts in vaccines-US perspective. Vaccine, 20: S18-23. doi:10.1016/S0264-410X(02)00166-4
[5] Hunter RL (2002). Overview of vaccine adjuvants: present and future. Vaccine, 20(Supplement 3):S7-S12. doi:10.1016/S0264-410X(02)00164-0

Related Reading

We strongly recommend the Vaccine Education Center of the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania. They offer A Look at Each Vaccine which is excellent. Lots of people have recommended Do Vaccines Cause That? as remarkably clear and down-to-earth on vaccine issues.
CDC offers an FAQ for common mis-conceptions about vaccines.
A Paediatrician’s Series on Vaccinations
Patrick Holford claims there is no need to vaccinate for whooping cough
Patrick Holford and his recommendations for vaccines: as canard-stuffed as we feared




Filed under children, Holford, immunization, patrick holford, thiomersal, vaccination, vaccines

9 responses to “Patrick Holford and Aluminium in Vaccines

  1. Impressive how many errors Holford can fit into a short piece on vaccines, really… Would be funny, if it wasn’t for the potentially serious consequences of such inaccuracies.

  2. Holford just keeps finding new ways of being dangerously wrong doesn’t he? Why nutri-woos feel they have to involve themselves in the debate over vaccine safety is beyond me. Unless they think that endorsing *any* alternative viewpoint will ingratiate them with their audience. I note that Briffa’s blog has picked up a couple of fans following his MMR pieces – from the JABS forum [John Stone and Cybertiger].

  3. I’ve never believed in that business of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” but that is where this sort of nonsense leads. However, on the other hand, when people have such an angry style, it’s always nice to think that they’ve found a friend although one might wonder what the tea-table conversation might be like. (For some reason, the Bulldog character from Frasier comes to mind x3.

    I’ve seen you refer to Cialdini a few times lately – I wonder if some people feel a need to branch out to anti-vax propaganda because it feels like consistency with a belief in the invincible immune system that is the consequence of the ‘right way of eating’ and the endless supplements.

  4. “I wonder if some people feel a need to branch out to anti-vax propaganda because it feels like consistency with a belief in the invincible immune system”
    Good thinking dvnutrix – I’ve come across lots of claims about vitamin A and measles or vitamin C and viruses in discussions about the immune system and disease on certain forums (not serious forums though – just the Altie ones like JABS etc).

    “Vitamin A is a potent immune booster and some research indicates that it helps to limit the worst side effects of measles.”

    “then you have all the vax autism, exzema, asthma etc, worse than any measles side effects, which would be harmless under proper medical care, which in the case of vitamin C would stop all deaths or morbidity.”


  5. As you know, jdc, Holford mentioned measles and vitamin A and promoted a very partial view of the literature on the topic.

    And yes – given the hyperbole about vitamin C, it is remarkable that the hyperbole escalates as the clinical evidence quoted in support for it diminishes.

  6. Pingback: Some Rebuttals to Jeni Barnett’s Canards in Her LBC Radio MMR Segment « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science

  7. Pingback: Patrick Holford, Dr Richard Halvorsen and The Vaccination Schedule As a Risk for Asthma « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science

  8. A Valentino

    Come on clever people this Holford Chap may be a nutter BUT look at some simple truths
    1. aluminium IM injected does gets into a babies bloodstream very quickly, unlike when eaten, when very little crosses over and at a very low rate.
    2. People subjected to large amounts of intro venous aluminium DO get forms of dementia especially if they have bad kidney function or the dose is sustained. Inject rats with the doses they give babies and they show effects.
    3. Babies get a hell of a lot in some vaccination combinations, over 1 mg in the 3 month vax combo with certain brands, they also are about 5kg at this age and I am sure I do not have to remind anyone, they have very small kidneys.

    Why can’t someone do some good relevant infant specific research, I think the amounts given are far too large to just say “nothing to worry about, move on people” I have read everything I can find and the tiny amount of existing research does not really apply to babies and is not related to the current huge quantities that can be found in Vaccines. We need real science, we need isotope marked vaccines studies to see how much is ending up in the brain and split testing on twins etc. to see if there is some subtle cognitive impairment. Until this is done no one can suggest there is No possibility of a worry. The loss of even 1 IQ point over a population is a disaster.

    Holford might be an idiot but even a stopped clock is right twice a day, can we afford to be wrong here?

    • Please read the references that were provided by the links.

      Please explain why we would want to return to the morbidity and mortality of preventable childhood diseases such as measles etc.

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