Vaccines II: MMR, Varicella, and HPV

Let’s tackle the second part of our vaccinations series with some of the more common live-virus vaccines: MMR, Varicella, and HPV. Check out the CDC vaccine guides linked here.


  • Measles, mumps, and rubella - all are live attenuated strains of the virus

  • Should NOT be given during pregnancy

  • Immunity is about 97% against measles and rubella after 2 doses, and 88% against mumps after 2 dose

  • Given ideally before pregnancy to protect against congenital rubella

    • Otherwise, after pregnancy and not during

    • This is because during pregnancy, the adaptive immune system is not as robust as when one is not pregnant and higher risk of the live attenuated virus actually causing disease.

      • If an adult is not immune to MMR (and we screen for rubella during pregnancy), at least one dose should be given postpartum.

  • Ingredients

    • Chicken embryo cell culture - medium

    • Human diploid lung fibroblasts - medium

    • Vitamins, amino acids, sucrose, glutamate, human albumin, sorbitol, gelatin, sodium phosphate, sodium chloride

    • Fetal bovine serum - medium

    • Neomycin - antibiotic

  • Side effects

    • Can get rash, temperature, loss of appetite 2-3 days

    • Can get a VERY mild form of measles or mumps

    • Extremely rare: severe allergic reaction


  • Protects against chickenpox and shingles

    • 88-98% effective at preventing varicella after two doses, and 85% effective after 1 dose.

    • Ideally given before pregnancy to protect against chickenpox complications during pregnancy (ie. pneumonia) and congenital varicella syndrome or neonatal varicella.

    • Don’t give it during pregnancy.

  • Ingredients

    • Human diploid cells with DNA and protein

    • Sucrose, gelatin

    • Sodium chloride, monosodium-glutamate, sodium phosphate, potassium phosphate, potassium chloride, EDTA

    • Neoomycin

    • Fetal bovine serum

  • Side effects

    • Common: sore arm, fever, mild rash, temporary pain and stiffness

    • Severe: (very uncommon) - severe infection, pneumonia


  • Gardasil 9 protects against human papilloma virus 16, 18 (causes 80% of cervical cancer cases), 6, 11 (90% of genital wart cases), and another 5 types (31,33,45, 52, 58) that can lead to cervical cancer.

    • 3 separate shots for people aged 15-45 - high efficacy, with close to 100% prevention of HPV virus

    • If 9-14, 2 shots are sufficient

    • Not currently recommended during pregnancy

      • Good time to give it: immediately pp in hospital (dose 1), then 6 weeks pp  

  • Ingredients

    • Vitamins, amino acids, mineral salts, carbohydrates

    • Amorphous aluminum hydroxyphosphate sulfate

    • Sodium chloride

    • Polysorbate 20

    • Neomycin, yeast protein

  • Side effects

    • Common: pain, redness, swelling of arm where shot was given

    • Less likely: fever, headache, feeling tired, nausea, muscle or joint pain.

Vaccines I: Tdap and Influenza

Today we get a little political to arm you with the most up-to-date information on vaccines. We’ll start with the two vaccines recommended in pregnancy: Tdap and Flu. We summarize some of the salient details below:

(C) CREOGs Over Coffee

Now onto some of these controversial ingredients:

  • Formaldehyde - this is used to inactivate viruses and detoxify bacterial toxins

    • Why are people concerned? Because they hear that formaldehyde is used in glues and adhesives, used in preserving dead bodies,  used in insulation materials. In high levels and long-term exposure, formaldehyde IS linked to cancer development.

    • But it is safe! There is always a small amount  of formaldehyde in humans at all times as a normal part of our metabolism (it’s in the air and all around us). In a normal two-month old, there is around 1.1mg of formaldehyde circulating in the body, which is 50-70x more formaldehyde than is present in one dose of vaccine.

  • Octylphenol ethoxylate (Triton X-100) - basically a detergent. Present in trace amounts

  • Sodium phosphate-buffered isotonic sodium chloride solution - this is salt water, it’s used as a buffer

  • Thimerosol - mercury containing ingredient that acts as a preservative.

    • Why are people concerned? The word mercury. Large amounts can be harmful

    • In vaccines this is ethylmercury, which is different from methylmercury, which is the mercury compound that is harmful. Ethylmercury is much more quickly metabolized and removed from your body.

      1. It’s like being afraid of sodium.  Sodium on it’s own will explode if you put it on water. Sodium chloride is salt that you eat.

      2. Even now… only multi-dose flu vaccines have thimerosol, and thimerosal-free vaccines are widely available.

  • 1,2-phenoxyethanol - preservative; it is metabolized and excreted.

  • Aluminium phosphate - used as an adjuvant in vaccines. Makes it more effective by strengthening immune system response, so people need fewer doses of the vaccine to build immunity.

    • Why are people concerned? There has been concern that long-term exposure to high amounts of aluminum can contribute to brain and bone disease

    • Why are we not concerned? There are trace amounts of aluminum in water, food, breast milk

      • A breast-fed patient will ingest about 7 mg of aluminum in 6 months of life . The standard vaccine administered over the first six months of life averages to just 4.4 mg. The amount in a single vaccine is so small that there is no noticeable raise in the base amount found in the blood even immediately after injection.