The small amounts of formaldehyde found in healthcare applications have functional benefits that only formaldehyde can deliver. Because formaldehyde has intrinsic anti-bacterial and preservative properties, it brings important benefits for a number of healthcare applications.
For example, formaldehyde has long been used safely in the manufacture of certain viral and bacterial vaccines. In viral vaccines, formaldehyde helps inactivate the viruses so that the vaccine won’t cause disease. Some common inactivated viral vaccines include those for flu, cholera, polio and hepatitis A. These types of vaccines also do not require refrigeration which means they can be shipped all around the world, including to developing countries where medical infrastructure can make delivering necessary vaccines a challenge. Toxoid vaccines like diphtheria and tetanus use an inactive bacterial toxin to produce immunity and formaldehyde helps inactivate the bacteria in these types of vaccines.
Formaldehyde is an active ingredient in anti-infective drugs and is used in gel capsules to promote maximum absorption. There are also medical research applications for formaldehyde including pharmaceutical research in proteomics and genomics.
Because formaldehyde is excellent at prohibiting bacterial growth, small amounts are included in some personal care products like toothpaste and mouthwash.