How do vaccines work to protect us? Think about it in terms of providing your own body’s immune system with reinforcements. The vaccines actually lend your immune system a helping hand, making it stronger and providing it with more ammunition to fight off the bad germs.
Our Immune System
From the moment we are born, we are exposed to many germs. To fight back, nature gives us the immune system. Our immune system is made up of many tiny cells called antibodies. The main role of antibodies is to attack anything that doesn’t belong in our body. When germs enter our body, the immune system quickly makes more antibodies to kill all the invading germs.
How Vaccines Work
Vaccines actually help the immune system by training these antibodies to recognise certain specific germs so the immune system is well prepared by the time the real germs infect your body.
Firstly, small amounts of antigens are injected into the body or given through the mouth or nose, via vaccines. Antigens train the immune system to recognise specific germs and triggers a response without actually making the body sick.
The response is the production of antibodies that recognise and fight of the germs. At the same time, our body makes memory cells.
Just like soldiers, the memory cells and antibodies will work together to remember and attack the germs should an infection occur. This form of defence is called acquired/active immunity.
Know Your Vaccine Types
Vaccines basically use tiny amounts of altered germs of the same disease to help train our body’s immune system. However, because each disease is different, the germs in vaccines are also altered using different methods.
1. Live/attenuated vaccines contain live but weakened germs. Examples include the MMR, Measles, Chickenpox, and Rotavirus vaccine.
2. Inactivated vaccines(e.g. whole cell vaccines) use germs that have been killed using chemicals, heat or radiation. Examples include Inactivated Polio and Hepatitis A vaccine.
3. Subunit vaccines (e.g. conjugate, acellular, DNA and recombinant vaccines) only make use of a specific part of a germ. Examples include the Hepatitis B, Hib, Pneumococcal and Meningococcal vaccine.
4. Toxoid vaccines use inactivated forms of the toxins produced by the bacteria. This is because some diseases aren’t caused by the bacteria itself but by the toxins of the bacteria. Examples include Diphtheria and Tetanus (part of the DTP vaccine).