The How Vaccines work.


How does vaccines work?

Vaccines are considered to be the biggest advancement in the history of public health and for good reason. The invention of the vaccine allowed medical science a way to keep serious illnesses from taking the lives of many, not to mention that vaccines have since also prevented things such as birth defects in newborns. Vaccines have saved the lives of many that otherwise would have been dangerously exposed to diseases such as smallpox, diphtheria, and polio. But these were only some of the first vaccines and today, they are still being created and developed to prevent against other serious illnesses such as cervical cancer. Vaccines are also so successful and effective at preventing diseases that also today many school boards require that children are vaccinated against certain types of illnesses before being registered as a student. And all of this comes from an invention that was created over two centuries ago!

However, despite the fact that vaccines have helped stopped entire epidemics, they still remain a topic of large debate and this is partly due to the fact that many people aren’t entirely aware of what vaccines actually do in the body. Ironically, it’s partly the fact that vaccines are so incredibly powerful that they raise such skepticism from critics. People are sometimes afraid of things that are placed in the body and designed to do things such as build up resistances. It’s true that with some vaccines, a small amount of the illness is placed within the injection so that the body can build up an immunity to it. Although this can be a frightening thought, it’s a small part of the vaccination process but, a very important one. It’s important to know just how vaccines work so you can really understand the amazing benefits that they possess.

The Creation of Vaccines

It was back in 1796 when smallpox was claiming millions of lives that a physician by the name of Edward Jenner had a theory that he put into practice. During the same time, there was also an outbreak of cowpox, which was similar to smallpox and was a condition that many milkmaids were being afflicted with. When Jenner realized that the milkmaids that contracted cowpox were also immune to smallpox, he gathered some cow matter that had been infected with cowpox and placed it over a cut on the arm of a young boy. The boy became slightly ill from cowpox and quickly recovered. It was at that time that Jenner injected the boy with a small amount of smallpox. The boy did not become sick after the smallpox injection and so this is considered to be the world’s first vaccine. Cows are still honored today in their part for the development of such a medical advancement – the word ‘vacca’ is Latin for ‘cow.’

How Vaccines Are Given and Work in the Body

The original concept behind vaccines is that the human body will become immune to a certain disease after they have been exposed to it once. This is true with many illnesses such as chickenpox and is especially important with illnesses such as smallpox, where contracting it just once could take your life. However, once the disease has been contracted and you have recovered from it, your body will now have antibodies that can fight against that disease should you become exposed to it again. Vaccines work with this information to make your body believe that you have already contracted and recovered from the disease but it has the particular advantage of not making you sick in the meantime. The process of how vaccines actually work is known as the ‘immune response’ because your body is responding to form an immunity.

Vaccinations are administered by medical professionals, usually through a needle injection. These injections contain a small amount of a disease in a dead or weakened state. The immune system in the body will then recognize the foreign substance which are the viruses and bacteria from the vaccine and will identify them as antigens. Once the immune system has detected that there are antigens in the body, it will begin to create proteins to circulate throughout the blood system. These proteins are known as antibodies and they mostly contain white blood cells, also known as B cells. The main purpose of these B cells is to create antibodies that will be able to fight infections. The body will then store the antibodies that have been created so that they will be available should the body become infected with that disease again. The only downfall is that antibodies will only be able to fight off one disease and therefore, still leaves you exposed to other diseases. This is why there are so many different vaccines today.

One of the biggest differences that is very important to understand between being exposed to the disease through a vaccine and being exposed naturally is that in a vaccine, there is only a very small amount of antigens and they are not in a very active state. This small amount is just enough for the body to identify but is not enough to make a person seriously ill. When a person is exposed to a disease naturally, the antigens multiply at such a fast rate that it is impossible for the immune system to create enough antibodies to keep up with fighting the infection and so, the person becomes extremely ill.

The Different Types of Vaccines

Part of the reason that you don’t become very sick when you get a vaccine is because the illness is given in a dead or weak state. Vaccines are categorized within these two, with live vaccines being called live-attenuated vaccines and inactivated vaccines containing dead cells from illnesses.

Live-attenuated vaccines are given with a very small amount of illness cells that are live, meaning that they are active. These are necessary because without being active, the cells would be unable to reproduce and the reproduction of the cells is necessary for the vaccine to be effective. However, the live cells are weakened so much that they are not active enough to produce any sort of serious illness in the person receiving the vaccination. They are also only able to reproduce about 20 times, whereas cells from an illness that was contracted naturally will produce thousands of times in the body. The presence of 20 cells is enough for the immune system to recognize the illness.

When live-attenuated vaccines are developed, it begins with contracting a small amount of the illness from an infected person and isolating the illness cells in a test tube. Once the virus has been slightly developed in the test tube, it’s passed to a second test tube and then a third and so on in order to weaken the cells. The measles was passed through a total of 77 test tubes during its development! Occasionally, the cells will be taken out and examined to make sure that they have not changed or become deformed in any way but the process allows the cells to become so accustomed to the test tube environment that they don’t have the ability to create the illness when placed in the body. One of the largest benefits of live-attenuated vaccines is that they generally last a lifetime.

Inactivated vaccines are made with disease cells that have been killed with chemicals such as formaldehyde. This dead bacteria is then placed into the vaccine however, because they are weakened to such a state of actually being dead, they don’t last nearly as long and so, sometimes additional vaccines, also called booster shots, are needed several years after the initial vaccination was given. Also because the cells are so weak, multiple doses are usually required at separate times before the first vaccination is considered to be complete. In other words, a vaccine for one disease may require that 3 injections are administered over a period of 12 months. The main advantage of inactivated vaccines is that there is absolutely no chance of becoming sick from the disease although there is a very small chance of an allergic reaction to the vaccine.

Whether vaccines are developed to be live-attenuated vaccines or inactivated vaccines all depends on the disease and its effect on the human body. Generally, scientists will first try to create an inactive vaccine that is effective but if that is impossible they will try a live-attenuated vaccine. Illnesses that are caused by viruses can generally only be vaccinated through live-attenuated vaccines while the majority of bacteria-caused illnesses are preventable with inactivated vaccines. There are some exceptions, such as rabies which will undoubtedly kill its victim once the disease has been contracted and progressed and so an inactive form of the disease must be administered for the vaccine.

Most Common Myths About Vaccines

Regardless of how far vaccines have come and the astounding number of advancements that are always being made, there are still many people that are not only skeptical of vaccines but are adamant against getting their child vaccinated because they fear that it will cause more harm than good. However, getting vaccinated, whether as a child or for adult vaccinations, is extremely important and so, here we will bust some of the most common vaccine myths.

Vaccines cause autism:

This myth came about during a time when children were being diagnosed with autism at around the same time they were finishing up their rounds of infant vaccines, at around the age of 18 months. One of the biggest concerns was that the vaccines contained the ingredient Thimerosol, which was necessary to prevent bacteria growth. Even when Thimerosol was being used, there were many, many studies conducted to find a link to autism and none could be found. Still, Thimerosol has been removed from all infant vaccines today in the United States so that the fear could be completely removed.

The diseases are no longer prevalent and so vaccinations are unnecessary:

It’s true that we don’t see a lot of horrible diseases today such as polio and smallpox however, smallpox is the only disease that has been considered to be completely eliminated and it’s exactly because of vaccines that we do not see problems with these sicknesses anymore. Once people stop becoming vaccinated, we will most definitely see a reemergence of the diseases.

Babies systems are just not strong enough to handle so many shots:

The impact that the number of vaccination shots will have on an infant is far less than the impact that will be caused by contracting a life-threatening disease. It’s also because babies are such fragile creatures that it’s especially important to vaccinate them soon after birth. Should they contract such a serious illness, their frail bodies would simply not be able to fight off the infection and it could have tragic results.

I got the flu from the flu shot:

The flu shot, which is offered by many medical offices and clinics every year at the beginning of flu season, cannot give anyone the flu it’s meant to prevent – it’s impossible. Every year, scientists and medical experts do their best to guess which strains of the flu will be especially prevalent that year and they then create vaccines to prevent those types of the flu. However, there are only about 3 different types of the flu that are covered by the flu shot and there are thousands of different kinds of the flu. This means that although you may be vaccinated for one type of flu, you will still be vulnerable to another. Flu vaccines however, are made from eggs as well and so those with an allergy to eggs should never get the flu shot.


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