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What’s an adjuvant?

An adjuvant is a substance that increases the body’s immune response to an antigen — the part of an organism that stimulates the immune system. The antigen in some vaccines doesn’t stimulate the immune system very strongly. Manufacturers include adjuvants in some vaccines, particularly vaccines using small parts of organisms or those produced using recombinant (genetic) technology, so that the vaccines can trigger enough immune response to prevent disease. People with weakened immunity, whether from age, disease, or medications, may especially benefit from adjuvants. Live vaccines, in general, do not require adjuvants.

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