Fact Check: Formaldehyde, Polysorbate 80 Do NOT Pose Health Risk In Flu Shots

Fact Check

  • by: Marlo Lee
Fact Check: Formaldehyde, Polysorbate 80 Do NOT Pose Health Risk In Flu Shots Trace Amounts

Do flu shots "contaminated with formaldehyde and polysorbate 80" pose a potential health risk to those vaccinated against influenza? No, that's not true: Some flu shots do contain formaldehyde and polysorbate 80, but the amounts are too minimal to cause any harm to the average person, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Lead Stories.

The claim about contaminated flu shots appeared in an October 4, 2022, Instagram post. The image's caption asked, "Did I catch your attention? Good. Now go actually research what you put in your body 🙃."

The text for the image's graphic read:

Elderberries are contaminated with formaldehyde and polysorbate 80. Just kidding ... That's the flu shot.

This is what the post looked like on Instagram at the time of this fact check's writing:

Screen Shot 2022-10-05 at 10.23.50 AM.png

(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Wed Oct 5 14:36:28 2022 UTC)

A full list of influenza vaccines and their ingredients can be found on page three of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Vaccine Excipient Table. Five of the nine influenza vaccines listed contain formaldehyde. Only four contain polysorbate 80. Only three of the nine influenza vaccines have both polysorbate 80 and formaldehyde.

The Environmental Protection Agency defines formaldehyde as a colorless, flammable gas, which, at room temperature, has a strong odor. It can be found in preservatives in some medicines, glues, paints and coatings. It also occurs naturally in the human body.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines polysorbate 80 as a food additive that stabilizes food. The FDA's Code of Federal Regulations lists a number of foods, such as ice cream and pickles, that are permitted to contain polysorbate 80.

In response to Lead Stories' inquiry for further clarification about the risks these additives pose, the CDC's Immunization Safety Office responded on October 5, 2022, via a spokesperson that:

Not all influenza vaccines contain formaldehyde or polysorbate 80. As noted, influenza vaccines containing these compounds have them in trace quantities that do not harm people.

In some vaccines, formaldehyde is used "to detoxify bacterial toxins" and "inactivate viruses" to prevent the spread of disease, according to the FDA. These vaccines contain, however, only "residual quantities." The agency writes:

The amount of formaldehyde present in some vaccines is so small compared to the concentration that occurs naturally in the body that it does not pose a safety concern.

A Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) overview of the presence of formaldehyde in U.S.-licensed vaccines states that flu vaccines with the additive contain "between < 0.005 - 0.1 mg." (A milligram is equivalent to just under .00004 ounces.)

The second additive mentioned in the claim, polysorbate 80, is used to preserve vaccines properly during their "manufacture, storage, and transport," according to CHOP.

Other than its use in vaccines, polysorbate 80 is a common stabilizer also found in ice cream (170,000 micrograms -- a millionth of a gram -- per half-cup), the hospital noted. The two vaccines it listed, COVID-19 and HPV, contain under 200 micrograms.

Lead Stories previously confirmed that polysorbate 80 in ice cream is safe to eat. It follows, therefore, that still lower amounts of polysorbate 80 in a vaccine would not cause harm to the recipient.

Additional Lead Stories fact checks about vaccines can be found here, here and here.

Want to inform others about the accuracy of this story?

See who is sharing it (it might even be your friends...) and leave the link in the comments.:

Marlo Lee is a fact checker at Lead Stories. She is a graduate of Howard University with a B.S. in Biology. Her interest in fact checking started in college, when she realized how important it became in American politics. She lives in Maryland.

Read more about or contact

About Us

International Fact-Checking Organization Meta Third-Party Fact Checker

Lead Stories is a fact checking website that is always looking for the latest false, misleading, deceptive or inaccurate stories, videos or images going viral on the internet.
Spotted something? Let us know!.

Lead Stories is a:


Subscribe to our newsletter

* indicates required

Please select all the ways you would like to hear from Lead Stories LLC:

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please visit our website.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.

Most Read

Most Recent

Share your opinion