Vaccination is not a modern invention. The earliest recorded vaccinations made from powdered insects were recorded in the 17th century in India and China to fight smallpox. Over time, with research and a better understanding of how diseases develop, the production and use of vaccines have evolved. Today, vaccinations are mandatory in many countries in the world in an attempt to improve health, increase resistance against diseases and infections and improve the survival rate of those affected.
What Can Vaccination Do and Why Is It Important?
At its core, vaccination is meant to help humans and animals develop what is known as adaptive immunity to disease-causing microorganisms. Although it will not completely prevent one from becoming infected due to exposure, it can reduce the effects of the infection and improve one’s ability to survive the disease. To date, it remains as the most effective means to prevent infectious diseases, many of which can be fatal. It has also helped in the eradication of the once-deadly disease smallpox, and has significantly contributed in the decline of incidents involving measles, tetanus and polio in many countries. Two of the most important scientists who have contributed to the development of vaccination are Edward Jenner, who created the smallpox vaccine, and Louis Pasteur.
The goal of vaccination is to boost one’s immunity, which explains why it is also called immunization. The body is designed to fight off diseases using a built-in protection system. Any disease-causing microorganism that enters the body is considered an invader. This triggers a self-preservation response that involves the production of antibodies that attack the pathogen that has the potential to cause disease. Most healthy individuals could withstand a mild infection and the antibodies they have developed may be good enough to protect them over their lifetime. However, some pathogens are far stronger and quicker to reproduce, making it more difficult for one to develop a natural immunity. If and when this happens, a person suffers from the effects of the disease. To reduce the severity of the symptoms and prevent the complications from an infection, immunization is key due to its pre-emptive action.
Types of Vaccines
There are several types of vaccines available. These include: Live, Attenuated
This type of vaccine is composed of the live microbe that has been weakened to prevent it from causing disease. Nevertheless, the microbe could still trigger a response in the immune system, stimulating it to produce antibodies in response to the microbes. These antibodies will fight off the microbe in case of exposure later, making it that much easier for the individual to avoid becoming ill. Live, attenuated vaccinations allow individuals to recover quickly even after an infection. While effective, this type of vaccine is not recommended for those who have compromised immune systems. Some examples of live, attenuated types include MMR vaccine and chickenpox vaccine.
The inactivated type is created by using dead microbes. The microbes are first killed using heat, radiation or chemicals before they are used for vaccinations. The inactivated type does not need to be refrigerated, making it easier to transport and store. However, since the microbe is already dead, the response from the immune system is weaker, thus the vaccine has to be repeated through booster shots.
Some bacteria produce toxins which are used to produce a toxoid vaccine, one that is specifically made to combat the effects of exposure to the toxin. The toxins are rendered inactive through chemical treatment, making them safe to use. Tetanus and diphtheria vaccines are some of the most common forms of the toxoid type.
A subunit vaccine is produced by extracting the antigens from a microbe. These antigens are known to trigger the body’s immune system, stimulating it to produce the necessary antibodies needed to avoid severe infections. An example of the subunit type is the one created for Hepatitis B.
Conjugate vaccinations are a special form of the subunit type. Most disease-causing bacteria have an external coating of polysaccharides, a type of sugar. This coating hides the antigens, preventing them from being recognized by the body’s internal protection system. This is usually the case with young children and infants who have yet to develop the ability to fight off infection. By linking the antigens of a microbe to polysaccharides, the vaccine can stimulate the body of the patient to recognize the bacterium and produce the appropriate antibodies for it. The vaccine used to fight off the Haemophilus influenzae Type B bacteria is an example of this type.
The procedure is still in its experimental stages but once they become available, DNA vaccinations could provide an effective means of protection against many diseases. The DNA type uses the genes of the microbe itself to extract disease-causing antigens. Once introduced into the body, the natural protection system of an individual will create the antigens that will trigger the body’s immune response. This in turn will stimulate the body to produce antibodies.
The side effects of vaccination on people particularly small children have been questioned, particularly in recent years when attention was focused on its supposed role in the development of unrelated conditions, including autism. The allegation was especially strong over the administration of the MMR vaccine, which was believed to have triggered autism disorders in small children. The MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) is usually initially given to children at around one year of age. However, with research and for the lack of a verifiable scientific support, the argument against vaccines was retracted. Unfortunately, the publication of the purported effects of vaccination on young children has resulted in the rise of cases involving measles and whooping cough – diseases that are both vaccine-preventable. The idea of avoiding vaccination in order to prevent autism and other diseases has been debunked.
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