Developmental and reproductive toxicity testing of vaccines

J Pharmacol Toxicol Methods. 2012 Mar;65(2):58-63. doi: 10.1016/j.vascn.2011.12.001. Epub 2011 Dec 30.


The majority of new preventative and therapeutic vaccines are now assessed for developmental toxicity according to guidelines issued by the FDA in 2006. Despite the absence of confirmed effects in humans, vaccines are frequently suspected of having adverse side-effects on the development of children. Such suspicions are perhaps unavoidable considering the extremely widespread use of vaccines. The preclinical developmental toxicology studies are designed to assess possible influences of each component of the vaccine formulation-and the induced antibodies-on the development of the conceptus, neonate and suckling organism. Immune modulation by a vaccine or an adjuvant could, for instance, affect the outcome of pregnancy by interfering with the natural shift in immune balance of the mother during gestation. Maternal immunoglobulins are transferred from the mother to the offspring in order to confer passive immunity during early life. This maternal antibody transport is prenatal in humans and monkeys, but tends to be delayed until after birth in other species. Therefore, a suitable model species needs to be chosen for preclinical studies in order to ensure exposure of the foetus to the induced maternal antibodies following vaccination. Rabbits are the best laboratory model for prenatal immunoglobulin transfer, but rodents are more practical for the necessary postnatal investigations. Non-human primates are the only appropriate models for the testing of vaccines that are not immunogenic in lower species. It is advisable to test new adjuvants separately according to the ICH S5(R2) guidelines. Preclinical paediatric investigations are not currently required for vaccines, even though most vaccines are given to children. Other areas of regulatory concern include developmental immunotoxicity and effects on the preimplantation embryo. Because of the limitations of the available animal models for developmental toxicity testing, pharmacovigilance is essential.

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Drug-Induced / etiology*
  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / toxicity
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Embryo, Mammalian / drug effects*
  • Embryo, Mammalian / embryology
  • Female
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Humans
  • Immune System / drug effects
  • Immunity, Maternally-Acquired / drug effects
  • Macaca fascicularis
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Mice
  • Models, Animal
  • Pregnancy
  • Rabbits
  • Rats
  • Reproduction / drug effects*
  • Species Specificity
  • Teratogens / classification
  • Teratogens / toxicity*
  • Toxicity Tests / methods*
  • Vaccines / classification
  • Vaccines / toxicity*


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Teratogens
  • Vaccines