We’re getting a lot of questions about what is (and is not) in the COVID-19 vaccine made by Oxford-AstraZeneca. So here’s an explainer on the ingredients.
This vaccine contains a virus that causes the common cold in chimpanzees. It has been genetically modified so that it can’t infect you, and also so that it delivers one important part of the virus that causes COVID-19–the spike protein. The vaccine also contains ingredients to balance its acidity, stabilizers to keep it from getting clumpy, and water. It does NOT contain human cells (including fetal cells), chimpanzee cells, the virus that causes COVID-19, HIV, gelatin, any common food allergen (including shellfish, eggs, etc), latex, or microchips. For a list of more stuff that’s not in this vaccine, scroll to the bottom.
And if you want to know what’s in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, we did those ones on Monday.
What’s in the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine:
🧪 The active ingredient in the AstraZeneca vaccine is a genetically modified common cold virus (an adenovirus, specifically) that normally infects chimpanzees. Scientists picked this virus because our immune systems are very unlikely to have ever encountered it before.
The genes of this virus have been manipulated in two ways. First, it cannot replicate (or make copies of itself–that is, it can’t infect you). Second, genes have been inserted into the virus so that it helps make a protein shaped just like the spike protein on the COVID-19 virus.
The presence of an adenovirus in your body is what alerts your immune system that something is afoot, prompting a defensive response. This virus yelling “Hey! Immune system! Over here!” is called an adjuvant. In this case, the adenovirus is also the delivery system for the protein we want to develop a response to (the vector).
Your immune system responds like it would to any common cold virus: by tearing it to bits. It also memorizes the shape of that spike protein. Then if it ever encounters that shape again, it recognizes it quickly and goes back into destroy mode, targeting anything that has the same specific shape.
🧪 The vaccine also contains water and ingredients to balance the electrolytes and acidity to match your body’s:
– L-histidine (an amino acid, to balance pH)
– L-histidine hydrochloride monohydrate (also to balance pH)
– sodium chloride (salt)
🧪 As well as stabilizers to keep the mixture from getting clumpy.
– Magnesium chloride hexahydrate (a form of magnesium salt)
– Polysorbate 80 (an emulsifier commonly found in foods and cosmetics. Emulsifiers keep mixtures from separating.)
– Disodium edetate dihydrate (a chemical that binds minerals and metals. It’s used to treat conditions from lead poisoning to macular degeneration. It’s also in fortified breakfast cereal).
– Ethanol (that’s the same type of alcohol in a martini, in purified form. It is a very tiny amount of ethanol. It will not make you feel intoxicated.)
– Sucrose (sugar)
Note that these stabilizers are also ingredients in many other drugs, including other vaccines.
This vaccine is manufactured using a human fetal cell line to make the modified adenovirus. What does this mean? In 1973, scientists replicated a cell from a 14-week fetus which was legally aborted for medical reasons. That cell has been copied in a lab over and over all these decades. This is called a cell line. A bunch of identical cells replicated from this line, growing in a dish 🧫, are used to host the production of the modified virus. This is necessary because we don’t have the technology to just “3D print” viruses. We need to recruit some kind of cell to make them. Influenza virus for the flu vaccine is grown in chicken eggs. The yellow fever vaccine uses mouse embryos. The HPV vaccine uses yeast cells to make the key components. Several other vaccines use human cells.
This is quite different from the process used to make the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which do not use cells of any kind in manufacturing–a first in the vaccine world.
The cells used to make the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine are genetically identical to cells from that 1973 fetus but do not actually contain the fetus itself, are not considered alive, and are certainly *not* cloned fetuses! After the cells produce the modified virus, the virus is extracted and purified before being incorporated into the vaccine formula with the other ingredients. The final product contains no human cells, cell fragments, or human tissue at all.
We realize this is a very sensitive issue for those who oppose abortion for moral and religious reasons. The Vatican recently issued a statement saying “We believe that all clinically recommended vaccinations can be used with a clear conscience and that the use of such vaccines does not signify some sort of cooperation with voluntary abortion.” The Vatican also encourages people with lingering moral concerns to get an alternative vaccine.
For those people who find the use of human cell lines objectionable, the vaccine from Pfizer has used no fetal cell line in any stage of development or production. Moderna also uses no fetal cell lines in development or production but did conduct a Phase I trial for vaccine efficacy using a different fetal cell line.
What IS NOT in the Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaccine:
⛔ The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine contains no human tissue or cells, including fetal cells, blood products, etc. It is manufactured using a human cell line but the final product does not actually contain any of those cells or parts of them.
⛔ The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine contains no other animal tissue or any derivative, including chimpanzee tissue or cells.
⛔ The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine contains no SARS-CoV-2 virus.
⛔ The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine contains no human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or anything similar to it.
⛔ The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine contains no common food allergens such as milk, wheat, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, or shellfish, or their by-products.
⛔ The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine contains no pork products or by-products.
⛔ The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine contains no thimerosal, mercury, or aluminum.
⛔ The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine contains no preservatives.
⛔ The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine contains no egg and is not manufactured using eggs.
⛔ The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine contains no latex, and the vials do not have latex stoppers.
⛔ The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine contains no microchips. Sometimes syringes have a microchip on the outside that is scanned for quick input to a digital health record. This microchip is permanently attached to the syringe and can not enter your body.
If you’re interested in how vaccines are made, there’s a lot of good plain-language info under each vaccine at this link from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Choose a vaccine from the menu on the right, and then look at the header for “The vaccine.”