Are Vaccines Considered Biotechnology?

Biotechnology applies to many different industries but doesn’t seem to have a concrete definition. According to the Indonesian International Institute for Life Sciences (i3L), biotechnology is a mass production of goods using living materials. Because the definition of biotechnology is so vague, with words like “goods” and “living materials” being undefined, there seems to be a lot of wiggle room in classifying biotechnology. The term “red biotechnology” applies to biotechnology that is specifically medicine-focused, such as antibiotics or stem cells. Some have grouped vaccines in red biotechnology as well, with some confusion. The question of whether vaccines fall into the category of biotechnology is quite complicated.

Vaccines have a long history within health and medicine. Many are required for all U.S. citizens in order to go to public schools. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), there are six different types of vaccines. The first is an inactivated vaccine, where the infectious organisms are killed. Hepatitis A is a good example of this vaccine. The second type of vaccine is a naturally occurring infectious organism that is closely related to the pathogen, such as in the case of the smallpox vaccine, Vaccine type number three is an attenuated vaccine, or when a live infectious organism has been mutated to be less virulent, like the yearly flu vaccine. Type four are vaccines like hepatitis B, which are subunit vaccines, while vaccines like rabies or measles are type 5, being cell or virus-based. The final vaccine type is the DNA vaccine, of which there are no approved vaccines in the U.S. for human use. The controversial COVID vaccine would be considered type 5. Vaccines, due to their history of controversy in the U.S., do not easily fit in the red biotechnology category, like antibiotics or stem cells.

To determine if vaccines are biotechnology would be to first define them as a product or not. Because many vaccines are government-mandated, they don’t seem to be profitable, except to the companies that make them. One vaccine that might be the most product-like is the flu vaccine, as it gets updated every year, mimicking the upgrade of a product. Since the general public doesn’t see much of the vaccine marketing campaigns, minus those from the U.S. government, it is difficult to understand how vaccines are marketed and sold, making it more difficult to classify them as biotechnology or not.

To further answer this question, vaccines need to be classified as “living materials” or not. While some vaccines use cells or living infectious organisms, many also use dead organisms. This makes it even more difficult to determine which, if any, vaccines are considered biotechnology or not.

Whether or not vaccines are considered biotechnology does not affect their applications. Vaccines continue to be purchased by hospitals, pharmacies, and the government in order to promote public health. With the rise of COVID-19, it is clear that vaccines aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.



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“Cell-Based Vaccine.” Wikipedia, July 30, 2020.

“DNA Vaccine.” Wikipedia, 2021.

National Research Council (US) Committee on Opportunities in Biotechnology for Future Army Applications. Vaccination.

“The Role of Biotechnology in the Development of Vaccines.” i3l.

“What Is the Role of Biotech in Vaccines? – Quora.” . 2013

Wikipedia Contributors. “Inactivated Vaccine.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, January 22, 2020.

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