Without vaccines, many deadly diseases would have devastated a large portion of the human population. In this lesson, we will learn about how vaccines work and why they have great importance in our world.
What Are Vaccines?
Do you remember as a child heading to the doctor for a checkup and asking the all-important question: ‘Do I have to get a shot?’ You dreaded the quick, sharp pain of the needle and wondered why you were subjected to this torture. You knew it was a vaccine, but what exactly is that?A vaccine is an inactivated form of bacteria or virus that is injected into the body to simulate an actual infection. Because the injected microorganisms are ‘dead,’ they don’t cause a person to become sick. Instead, vaccines stimulate an immune response by the body that will fight off that type of illness.
How the Immune System Works
To better understand vaccines, we need to know more about how our body’s immune system works.
There are special cells in our bloodstream called white blood cells . They have the very important job of fighting off foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria. These invaders are known as antigens. White blood cells are like the armed forces of our body. They are constantly on the lookout for antigens that have entered our body, compromising our health.We also have a group of defensive proteins circulating in our blood that are known as antibodies.
They float around in non-active form until triggered by an immune response, such as the detection of an antigen. When this happens, billions of additional antibodies are produced that will fight off that particular antigen. This enormous army of antibodies now joins in the attack with the white blood cells, and the germs don’t stand a chance.For example, imagine that an influenza virus has entered your body and has begun replicating. The white blood cells patrolling your bloodstream have spotted these antigens. They gather their troops, produce a few billion antibodies geared to fight this specific virus, and launch a massive attack.
It will take some time for the body to completely fight off these germs, and that’s why you have symptoms of the illness for a short time. However, if you have a healthy and strong immune system, you will be as good as new in a few days.The great news is that now your body has developed a very strong army of antibodies for that particular virus. They remain on the lookout for that same antigen to invade. The next time it enters your body, it will be overtaken by the immune response so fast that you won’t even feel any symptoms.
How Vaccines Work
And so how do vaccines work to help us stay healthy? Let’s use the measles as an example.
As mentioned earlier, within a vaccine are inactivated versions of the virus. Basically, the shells of the virus are present, but their ability to replicate has been taken away, so there is no danger of getting sick from having the vaccine injected into your body.When you receive the measles vaccine into your bloodstream, the inactive form of measles viruses are now floating around in your bloodstream. The immune system detects that these are antigens, and they send out the emergency signal. Those white blood cells programmed to fight off the measles virus now spring into action, and an immense number of measles antibodies are produced.Now, it is important to remember that you are not actually ill with the measles.
Vaccines create the illusion of illness in order to make your immune system respond. However, if you later come into contact with the measles virus and it enters your body, your immune system is now prepared. The massive army of measles antibodies along with your white blood cells will attack the viruses so quickly that you will not get sick.
Vaccines and the Flu
So why do we need a flu vaccine every year when we only need other vaccinations a few times in our lives? The fascinating thing about the flu virus is that it mutates and changes from year to year, so your immune system may recognize the identifying markers on the surface of the virus for last year’s strain. However, this very resilient virus changes its identity, like we might put on a wig and a mustache.
It is now unrecognizable, and last year’s vaccine will not work for this year’s strain.
Types of Vaccines
The number of vaccines now recommended for children and adults has grown significantly over the years. The Center for Disease Control recommends a vigorous schedule of vaccinations starting at birth. It begins with the Hepatitis B vaccine, followed by rotavirus and DTap, which covers diptheria, tetanus, and whooping cough.
Children also receive vaccines such as polio, MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), and chicken pox.Yearly vaccines are recommended for adults as well. Flu shots are available every year to accommodate for the mutating strains of the virus.
Pneumonia vaccines are available, as well as shingles. And there are certainly other examples.
Vaccines are inactivated versions of bacteria or viruses that are injected into a person’s bloodstream.
The immune system can detect the foreign substances in the system, and it develops antibodies for that illness. Vaccines do not cause a person to be sick, but instead prepare the immune system for future contact with that particular antigen. There are many vaccines available to both children and adults, such as the flu vaccine.