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How Do Vaccines Protect Against A Disease?

  • timeline Dr. Pragnya Rao
  • 2 Min Read
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Vaccines are now the talk of the town, and we may be looking at them graduating to be the talk of this year, decade and more. The need for vaccination and its importance has only become increasingly relevant. All of us are looking towards vaccines to be our saviours, to help make this pandemic go away.

It is evident that the world may be exposed to more and more pandemics in the future, caused by a variety of organisms. In the era of misinformation and fake news with no scientific backup whatsoever, it would be worthwhile to invest some time in gathering basic (of course, science-backed) knowledge about vaccines.

So, how does a vaccine work?

The body is exposed every day to a variety of pathogens that are looking for a place in your body to call their home! But, the body is equipped with natural defence mechanisms- soldiers that are popularly known as antibodies. While a bacteria or virus that enters the body may have the potential to make you sick, antibodies can not only help neutralise this threat when produced in large numbers but can also help remember this ‘adventure’ so that the next time you encounter the same pathogen, your body is ready to fight it off with an immediate response.

For every new pathogen that enters the body, the body has to produce a specific antibody against it. This is where vaccines come into play.

  • Vaccines are basically inactive or weakened parts of the pathogen, say, a virus. It may contain fragments of the viral proteins (antigens) for example, which can help trigger an immune response (specific antibodies).
  • Some vaccines act as a blueprint to produce specific antigens to help create immunity in the body.
  • The body responds by producing specific antibodies against the disease so that when the body is exposed to the real organism, there is an in-built defence already in place to defeat it.
  • Sometimes, there may be multiple doses of a vaccine given over many months or years. This helps in building antibodies that confer long-lived immunity and memory cells to help identify and neutralise any future threat from the same organism.

Why does it take so long for a vaccine to be developed?

The journey of a vaccine starts from gathering information & ingredients, massive amount of research, development in laboratories, at least three phases of clinical trials to check for efficacy and any long-term effects, as well as completion of approvals and distribution to the general public. The process takes (and should take) at least 2-5 years before it becomes available for safe, general use.

How about the side-effects of vaccines?

This is a common question and also a booming topic of interest among people looking forward to receiving the COVID vaccine (which has albeit been the fastest to have ever been developed in human history). One can expect pain and swelling at the injection site. While the body is preparing antibodies, one may experience a short illness- with symptoms like fever, body ache and fatigue. That said, the side effects of vaccines are not something new. Allergic reactions, although rare have been noted in various trials pf various vaccines.

But this should not be any reason to panic. The response to vaccination may differ from person to person. However, what should not differ is that the end goal of any developed vaccines is to ensure the longevity of life by keeping diseases that may otherwise potentially alter that equation, at bay.

The advancement in science and technology should propel us towards progression, in thoughts and actions.

  • timeline
  • Written by

    Dr. Pragnya Rao

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