Vaccines and Primary Colors

December 16, 2015

Yellow, Pink, Purple, Red. Each color is in the title of a stellar medical reference book, all of which books should be on your office shelf.

Unless you consider “clear” or “cloudy” as colors, then most vaccines are colorless. One exception is the MMR that has a yellow/golden tint to it once reconstituted. Four great reference books dealing at least in part with vaccines exist and are often or always called by a color. See if you can match the book with the group responsible for its publication.

1. THE YELLOW BOOK                                             A. American Academy of Pediatrics

2. THE PINK BOOK                                                  B. Centers for Disease Control

3. THE PURPLE BOOK                                              C. Immunization Action Coalition

4. THE RED BOOK                                                    

For answsers and reviews of each reference, please click here.

THE YELLOW BOOK, officially titled CDC Health Information for International Travel, is published every two years by the CDC. You can get a hard copy from the Oxford Press and other places like It can be downloaded for Apple and Android phones from the iTunes store or GooglePlay app store. The cost for the Android is about $18 and hard copy from Amazon runs about $36. But check this link for the best price, free: In addition to information on vaccines important for international travel, it is a great source of evidence-based medicine on a variety of topics. Do you give a script for Septra or Cipro for treatment of travelers’ diarrhea?  Do you prescribe Zofran for motion illness? Better alternatives exist. Check them out in THE YELLOW BOOK.

What's in The Pink Book? Click here.

THE PINK BOOK, also published by the CDC, is one of the two books listed above that is focused only on vaccines and the diseases they prevent. The official title, Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases, is an apt description. A hard copy will set you back about $40. E-book formats are available for Kindle, Nook, and phones. But, again, I have a better deal for you, free from Have you ever gotten a vaccine record in a foreign language?  Some you may be able to figure out, but some (think Greek, Russian, Arabic alphabets) are indecipherable for most of us. This book has an appendix with the vaccine names in 34 different languages. Do you have any patients with severe allergy to latex? If so, some flu vaccines are safe and some are not. Similarly, some hepatitis A and B vaccines are safe and some are not. Again this book has a nice appendix that lists in table form by vaccine which are totally latex free. Both this book and The Purple Book (below) have nice sections on the vaccine safety monitoring system and practical suggestions on how to improve vaccination rates.

What's in The Red Book? Click here.


THE RED BOOK’s real name is The Red Book and is well known to pediatricians since all members of the American Academy of Pediatrics receive a free copy. Its first section is titled “Active and Passive Immunization” and is a wonderful reference on vaccination techniques and storage. The bulk of the book, however, deals with infectious diseases, only some of which are vaccine preventable.

What's in The Purple Book? Click here.


THE PURPLE BOOK is the newest kid on the block with its fifth edition recently published. Officially titled The Vaccine Handbook: A Practical Guide for Clinicians, it is put out by the Immunization Action Coalition, an organization with close ties to the CDC. It is perhaps the most user-friendly of our “colored” books and is the only one that can fit easily in to a lab coat pocket. Its 560 pages are packed with useful information ranging from the science of the immunology behind vaccines to discussions on how to deal with vaccine refusal and myths. And, of course, it details the practical aspects of providing vaccines in a clinic setting as well as all the recommendations of the different organizations (CDC, AAP, package inserts) which sometimes vary. It is the only member of our group of books that is written by a single individual, Gary Marshall, MD, professor of pediatrics and chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. It can be purchased for about $30 at the IAC’s website: The only way to read this one for free is to check it out of your hospital library.     

How did these books become known by a color and not a title? As purveyors of scientific information, new editions are published roughly every other year. While the information on the inside changed, the color of the book cover did not. Thus, one can say that the old adage is wrong in this case. Sometimes you can tell a book by its cover.