Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 Vaccine Ingredient List

The vaccine is FDA approved and is an mRNA vaccine recommended for use as protection against a COVID-19 infection.

The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (Comirnaty) on August 23, 2021 for people over the age of 16. Since then, the vaccine has also been authorized for younger children as well.

In January 2022, the FDA authorized a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to people 12 years and older who received their initial vaccination five months before. As of May 2022, the FDA expanded the emergency use authorization to include children between five and 11 whose primary vaccination occurred five months ago. The details for the timing of boosters are changing based on our growing understanding of the virus and the duration of protection from infection.

Thanks to the cooperation of scientists worldwide, we now have a life-saving vaccine in our pandemic toolbox.

But mRNA technology—the method used to create the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine—has never been used before for vaccination, so it's still understandable for people to have questions about it—especially about the ingredients that make up the shot. Fortunately, the answers to those questions are one click away. The makers of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have made the vaccine ingredients available to the public. You can search online or you can keep scrolling to learn everything you need to know about this vaccine.

How Pfizer's COVID-19 Vaccine Works

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine comprises a newer technology called messenger RNA (mRNA). The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine (Spikevax) also uses mRNA technology. While it's the first time used in a vaccine, researchers have been studying the possibility of an mRNA vaccine for decades.

Vaccines contain proteins that resemble part of an infectious organism to create an immune response in your body, including antibodies. In case you're not familiar with them, antibodies are proteins made by your immune system to fight infections like viruses. They can also remain in your body, helping fend off future illnesses by those same infections.

An mRNA molecule codes for the body to make a protein. The body naturally makes mRNA based on instructions from DNA, the body's genetic material. In the case of the vaccine mRNA, this molecule is made in a laboratory to encode a portion of the spike protein found on the surface of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When you receive the vaccine, your body makes the protein that resembles the viral protein, and when your body encounters the protein, it creates antibodies.

After the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine prompts an immune response, your body will eliminate the protein and the mRNA. According to 2021 research published in Nature Medicine, the antibodies will stay put for an estimated eight months.

Because the vaccine is composed of mRNA, it cannot give someone the virus. Researchers have also vigorously studied the safety of the vaccine and the CDC explained that this research has found no evidence of the mRNA vaccine interacting with your DNA or affecting your fertility.

Pfizer's COVID-19 Vaccine ingredients

The ingredients for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are available on the pharmaceutical company's website.

This is the full list of ingredients, according to Pfizer:

  • mRNA
  • Lipids (including ((4-hydroxybutyl)azanediyl)bis(hexane-6,1-diyl)bis(2-hexyldecanoate), 2 [(polyethylene glycol)-2000]-N,N-ditetradecylacetamide, 1,2-Distearoyl-sn-glycero-3- phosphocholine, and cholesterol)
  • Potassium chloride
  • Monobasic potassium phosphate
  • Sodium chloride
  • Dibasic sodium phosphate dehydrate
  • Sucrose

Breaking down the jargon, the CDC explains that most vaccine ingredients are those found in foods we eat every day—fats, sugars, and salts.

The mRNA we've already covered, but the fats called lipids are also a crucial element. "The lipids are very important because they form a little spherical shell around that mRNA," William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told Health.

The lipids are "how the vaccine is delivered to your body and to your cells," explained Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., infectious disease expert and assistant professor-adjunct at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. After that, they dissolve and are removed by your body.

Lipids "help keep the mRNA intact and stable until it gets into your body and starts doing its work," said Dr. Schaffner. Because of that, "lipids are unique to this type of vaccine", Jamie Alan, PhD, an associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University, told Health. But, "the rest of the ingredients are very common in vaccines," said Dr. Alan.

"The potassium chloride, monobasic potassium phosphate, sodium chloride, and dibasic sodium phosphate dehydrate are used to maintain the pH and stability of the vaccine," explained Dr. Alan. Sodium chloride is just salt, Dr. Adalja points out. And sucrose, a form of sugar, is "usually used as a stabilizer," said Dr. Alan.

Overall, experts agree the vaccine ingredients make sense. "There is nothing on this ingredients list that is shocking," said Dr. Schaffner.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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