Vaccine Adjuvants

Vaccines to prevent infectious diseases have saved millions of lives worldwide, yet there remains a need for new and improved vaccines against existing and emerging infections. Efforts to develop safe and effective vaccines increasingly involve the use of adjuvants — substances formulated as part of a vaccine to enhance its ability to induce protection against infection. Adjuvant discovery and development play critical roles in NIAID vaccine development efforts.

Due to advances in adjuvant science, many of which were driven by NIAID-supported programs, NIAID recently updated its adjuvant research agenda, culminating in the 2018 NIAID Strategic Plan for Research on Vaccine Adjuvants

What Is a Vaccine Adjuvant?

An adjuvant is a substance that is formulated as part of a vaccine to enhance its ability to induce protection against infection. The word “adjuvant” comes from the Latin adjuvare and means “to help.” Adjuvants help activate the immune system, allowing the antigens — pathogen components that elicit an immune response — in vaccines to induce long-term protective immunity. Read more about adjuvants.

How Do Adjuvants Work?

Researchers have found that many vaccine adjuvants work by eliciting early, innate immune responses. Since the mid-1990s, scientists have made many new discoveries in the field of innate immunity. These advances have led to identification of many promising adjuvant candidates. Read more about how vaccine adjuvants work.

Benefits of Vaccine Adjuvants

Adjuvants have several important benefits, including reducing the amount of antigen required, reducing the number of vaccines needed, enhancing the vaccine effectiveness in immunocompromised people, and many more. Learn more about the benefits of vaccine adjuvants.

Types of Vaccine Adjuvants

Only two adjuvants — alum and AS04 — are used in commercially available vaccines in the United States. In 2013, the Food and Drug Administration approved the inclusion of another adjuvant, AS03, in the pandemic H5N1 influenza vaccine. Currently, this vaccine is included in the U.S. vaccine stockpile but is not commercially available. Additional adjuvants have been approved for use in Europe, and many others are being tested in clinical trials. See more types of vaccine adjuvants.

NIAID Role in Adjuvant Research

Adjuvant discovery and development are critical to NIAID efforts to develop new and improved vaccines against infectious diseases. Learn more about NIAID’s long- and short-term goals in developing vaccine adjuvants.

Funded Research Programs

NIAID supports an array of adjuvant research, from basic studies on immune receptors to clinical testing of new adjuvant vaccine candidates. Read about NIAID-funded vaccine adjuvant research programs.

Vaccine Adjuvant Research in NIAID Labs

Many NIAID labs are engaged in adjuvant research. Investigators from the Laboratory of Malaria Immunology and Vaccinology, Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases, and Laboratory of Immune System Biology, are collaborating on a special program in vaccine adjuvants and several other labs are conducting and participating in adjuvant studies. 


Content last reviewed on April 2, 2019