Immunizations – how do they work?

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Vaccines: How They Work

Parents, teachers, community members, and politicians debate at-length the efficacy, potential dangers, and advantages of immunizations, but how many of us actually understand how they work? Generally people tend to have the impression that immunizations involve the process of inoculating a person with the disease-causing virus or bacteria so that their bodies can develop antibodies against the virus or bacteria. But is this accurate? We got curious about the truth and turned to top JustAnswer doctor Anthony Bray for an answer. Here’s how he explains it:

“People are not inoculated with exactly the same virus or bacteria that actually causes a disease. They are inoculated with proteins from bacteria, dead virus particles, or sometimes live attenuated viruses, which have been dramatically weakened so as not to cause the actual disease.

This is where the immune system comes into play, and specifically its lymphocyte’s, or plasma cell’s, role in generating proteins that stick to specific targets–the virus particles or bacteria. These plasma cells will make millions of the right type of antibodies to stick to the offending particles. This leaves a person with an immune memory, so if the same infection comes along 2 years, or 10 years later, the body remembers the offending particles and antibodies that stick only to that particular virus kick back a feedback which alerts the body to flood the system with more copies of the specific immune cells and millions more of the sticking antibodies.

The antibodies serve to tag the infection so that other immune cells come to gobble up the offending virus or bacteria. This is how a vaccine stimulates the antibody response that would identify the real virus or bacteria if it came along. So, say a child is given the measles vaccine, when the real measles virus starts to appear, the body’s antibodies and immune response occurs so fast that the real measles infection does not have time to really get established. Vaccines in essence work to massively speed up the immune system’s response time so that an actual virus or bacteria never has a chance to infect the person.”

We found this clear explanation by Doctor Bray helped us understand vaccines a little bit better, and knowledge and understanding usually helps facilitate more informed decisions. If you’d like to understand a medical issue more deeply, real doctors on JustAnswer not only help solve problems, but are here to offer information as well.



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