Thursday, December 19, 2019

How Do Vaccines Prevent Us from Getting Sick?

Editor's Note: This video is part of a monthly Texas Medical Association series highlighting infectious diseases that childhood and adult vaccinations can prevent. MeAndMyDoctor.com posts a video about a different disease/public health issue each month. Some of the topics featured include: FluMeaslesPneumococcal diseaseHuman papillomavirus (HPV)Chickenpox and shinglesPertussis (whooping cough), Hepatitis ARubella (also known as German measles), RotavirusPolioMumpsTetanusHepatitis B, and Meningococcal BDiphtheriapregnancy and vaccines, benefits of vaccinations, and more. 

TMA designed the series to inform people of the facts about these diseases and to help them understand the benefits of vaccinations to prevent illness. Visit the TMA website to see news releases and more information about these diseases, as well as physicians' efforts to raise immunization awareness.

Video: How Vaccines Work


Most people choose to vaccinate to protect themselves from infectious diseases. But many may not know how vaccines actually work.

It starts with the immune system, which defends our bodies from bacteria and viruses that can make us sick. After a physician or other health care worker gives someone a shot, the patient's body believes the vaccine is an invading disease, so it builds a resistance against it. This prepares the body for any future encounters a person may have with a real disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccines contain a small number of weakened or dead antigens, the parts of germs that cause a person's immune system to activate. After a person receives a vaccine, the key proteins in their immune system (called antibodies) will recognize that antigen and attack it if ever enters the body again.

Scientists make vaccines from a weakened or dead version of a germ, so people are highly unlikely to get sick after getting vaccinated.

Historians believe the idea of vaccinating emerged in Asia and Africa before the 18th century, from a practice called variolation. The technique exposed a healthy person to an infected person's smallpox blister via an open wound or by inhaling through the nose. Many people who underwent variolation avoided smallpox, but several got sick and died.

In the late 1700s, English physician Edward Jenner introduced the procedure we now know as vaccination after learning that dairy maids who got the cowpox virus from infected cows were immune to the highly contagious smallpox virus. He successfully injected an 8-year-old boy with matter from a cowpox blister and later, smallpox, to find the boy did not get sick from either virus. Mr. Jenner coined the new practice vaccination from the Latin word "vacca", which means "cow". Vaccination quickly became a widespread approach to disease prevention.

Doctors today want patients to understand how vaccines work so they can take steps in protecting themselves from preventable diseases. The chart below answers common questions about vaccines.


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