How to Read a Package Insert for a Vaccine

The highlights of prescribing information of the package insert offers a nice summary of each section, with more details in the full prescribing information section that follows.
The Highlights of Prescribing Information of the package insert offers a nice summary of each section, with more details in the Full Prescribing Information section that follows.

Show me the package insert!

If you are going to ask for a package insert, you should know what’s in it and how it should be read.

Otherwise, it is easy to get misled by antivaccine propaganda, like when Mike Adams claimed he discovered “a vaccine document on the FDA’s own website that openly admits vaccines are linked to autism.”

He really just found the widely available vaccine package insert that said no such thing.

How to Read a Package Insert for a Vaccine

What goes into a package insert is dictated by the FDA, specifically the Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, and Section 314 of the NCVIA, after consultation with the Advisory Commission on Childhood Vaccines.

Much like the package inserts for other medicines, a vaccine package insert includes up to 17 major sections, including:

  1. Indications and Usage – what the vaccine is used for
  2. Dosage and Administration – the recommended dose of vaccine, when and where it should be given, and how to mix it
  3. Dosage Forms and Strengths – available dosage forms
  4. Contraindications – all situations when the vaccine should not be given
  5. Warning and Precautions – all adverse reactions and safety hazards that may occur after getting the vaccine and what you should do if they occur
  6. Adverse Reactions – this section includes clinical trials experience, postmarketing experience, and voluntary reports, and it is very important to understand that it is not always possible to establish a causal relationship to vaccination for these adverse effects. So just because something is listed here, whether it is SIDS, autism, drowning, or a car accident, doesn’t mean that it was actually caused by the vaccine.
  7. Drug Interactions – any reactions you might expect between the vaccine and other drugs
  8. Use in Specific Populations – can include recommendations for use in pregnancy, nursing mothers, pediatric use, and geriatric use
  9.  Drug abuse and dependence – usually blank
  10.  Overdosage – usually blank
  11. Description – general information about the vaccine, including how it was made and all vaccine ingredients.
  12. Clinical Pharmacology – how the vaccine works, including how long you might expect protection to last
  13. Nonclinical Toxicology – must include a section on carcinogenesis, mutagenesis, impairment of fertility, even if it is to say that the vaccine “has not been evaluated for the potential to cause carcinogenicity, genotoxicity, or impairment of male fertility.”
  14. Clinical Studies – a discussion of the clinical studies that help us understand how to use the drug safely and effectively
  15. References – when necessary, a list of references that are important to decisions about the use of the vaccine
  16. How Supplied/Storage and Handling
  17. Patient Counseling Information – information necessary for patients to use the drug safely and effectively

In addition to not having sections 9 and 10, some vaccines don’t have a section 13. It is not a conspiracy. Some older vaccines, like Varivax, do not have to have a section 13 per FDA labeling rules.

Myths About Package Inserts

Just as important as what’s listed in a vaccine package insert, is what the package insert doesn’t say.

Or what you might be led to believe it says.

“To ensure the safety of new vaccines, preclinical toxicology studies are conducted prior to the initiation of, and concurrently with, clinical studies. There are five different types of preclinical toxicology study in the evaluation of vaccine safety: single and/or repeat dose, reproductive and developmental, mutagenicity, carcinogenicity, and safety pharmacology. If any adverse effects are observed in the course of these studies, they should be fully evaluated and a final safety decision made accordingly. ”

M.D. Green on the Preclinical Toxicology of Vaccines

When reading a package insert, don’t be misled into thinking that:

  • you should be worried if a package insert states that a vaccine has not been evaluated for carcinogenic (being known or suspected of being able to cause cancer) or mutagenic (being known or suspected of causing mutations in our DNA, which can lead to cancer) potential or impairment of male fertility. Vaccines don’t cause cancer or impair male fertility, or female fertility for that matter. And as you probably know, many vaccines actually prevent cancer. Formaldehyde is the only vaccine ingredient on the list of known carcinogens, but it is the long-term exposure to high amounts of formaldehyde, usually inhaled formaldehyde, that is carcinogenic, not the residual amounts you might get in a vaccine over short amounts of time.
  • any vaccine actually causes SIDS or autism
  • pediatricians are trying to keep parents from reading package inserts. Your pediatrician is probably just confused as to why you want it, as the VIS is designed for parents, not the package insert. But if even if your pediatrician doesn’t hand you a package insert for each and every vaccine your child is going to get, they are readily available from the FDA and many other websites.

Better yet, just don’t be misled by anti-vaccine misinformation.

“Based on previous experience, carcinogenicity studies are generally not needed for adjuvants or adjuvanted vaccines.”

WHO Guidelines on Nonclinical Evaluation of Vaccine Adjuvants and Adjuvanted Vaccines

Vaccines are thoroughly tested for both efficacy and safety before they are approved.

It is also important to understand that the WHO Guidelines on Nonclinical Evaluation of Vaccine Adjuvants and Adjuvanted Vaccines and the European Medicines Evaluation Agency both state that mutagenicity and carcincogenicity studies are typically not required for vaccines.

Why not?

It is because vaccines have a low risk of inducing tumors.

There are also very specific guidelines and rules for when a manufacturer needs to perform fertility studies.

So, as expected, there are no surprises in vaccine package inserts. You can be sure that everything that needs to be tested to show that a vaccine is safe has been done. If it has “not been evaluated,” it is simply because it was not necessary.

Get educated about vaccines and get your family vaccinated and protected against vaccine preventable diseases.

What to Know About Reading Vaccine Package Inserts

Learn how to read vaccine package inserts so that you aren’t misled by many of the myths about what they do and don’t say, including why they are likely missing information on the vaccine’s potential to cause carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, or impairment of fertility.

More on How to Read a Package Insert for a Vaccine:

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