Adjuvants: The biggest variable in a vaccine


There are two basic ingredients in killed vaccines: antigens and adjuvants. While antigens are well understood, there’s far less understanding of the critical role adjuvants play in vaccines’ ability to do their job. But not all adjuvants are the same, and identifying which adjuvant has the right properties to help solve a herd’s health challenges can give producers and veterinarians peace of mind that they’re giving the best possible vaccine to their animals.

Adjuvants are the biggest variable that impact vaccine performance. Nearly everything else within a killed vaccine is fixed, such as the antigens and routes of administration.

The antigens in killed vaccines are viruses or bacteria that have been inactivated so they don’t cause disease. But even in an inactivated state, antigens do set off an alarm within the immune system, signaling that a foreign invader is present. It’s the job of the adjuvant to amplify that alarm, which allows the immune system to begin building up its defenses against the invader, making it better prepared to fend off the real thing.

Not all adjuvants are created equally

Unlike commercial killed vaccines, autogenous, or custom-made vaccines, give producers and veterinarians the option to select an adjuvant that can help solve their herd’s health challenges. Determining the optimal adjuvant to use in a vaccine is critical, because different adjuvants have different abilities when triggering immune responses.

Some adjuvants help spark an earlier onset of immunity or a longer duration of immunity. Others can help create a stronger immune response or even a specific type of immune response.

Compatibility between antigens and adjuvants is a crucial factor because they all react differently to one another. An antigen needs to be compatible with an adjuvant to enable optimum vaccine efficacy and stability, especially in custom-made vaccines where there is often more than one antigen.

Newport Laboratories Inc. develops custom-made vaccines for the livestock industry and has seen first-hand the difference adjuvants can make.

We’re continually testing and optimizing the adjuvants we use in all of our custom-made vaccines to help deliver the best-possible result to producers and veterinarians.

For more information about adjuvants and Newport Laboratories’ custom-made vaccines, visit


Dr. Keith Wilson works with swine veterinarians and producers on preventative programs for disease control in his role as a Senior Professional Service Veterinarian at Newport Laboratories Inc.

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