Healthy Living

What Are Vaccines?

Vaccines have saved millions of lives around the world. Learn about the different types and which infections they prevent.

 What Are Vaccines?

What is a vaccine?

Vaccines are products that enable a person to develop immunity against certain diseases. A vaccine can be given through needle injections, by aerosol, or by mouth. The polio vaccine is given in the form of mouth drops that contain live but weakened organisms. The vaccine gets into your child's system but does not have the ability to fully develop the disease. Since it only imitates the organism's mechanisms, vaccines only contain a sufficient amount of microorganisms with very low activity.

After vaccination, a mild form of the disease might be observed in children having a low immune response. They can experience fever and lymphatic node enlargement. Moreover, there are times when your child develops a late immune resistance after vaccination. Some may achieve full immunity only after 2-3 weeks. When memory cells in our body as well as antibodies are still active and formed, it means that your child’s immunity is still not completely achieved. For this reason, your may notice some manifestations of the disease in your baby, but only mild symptoms. This phenomenon happens because each child responds differently to vaccines. Children who show no signs of illness after vaccination tend to achieve immunity faster than those who presented signs and symptoms of the infection.

Prevention is always better than cure. Vaccinations provide a lifetime of health and well-being right from birth to adulthood against known diseases such as influenza, malaria, typhoid, mumps, measles, rubella, polio, and hepatitis, among others. A chart of these vaccinations is to be maintained by the parents as well as the healthcare team with an appropriate timeline as to when the vaccines are to be administered. Even if a dose is missed for a few days, it would not be a problem. Vaccination should still be given to help your baby grow into a healthy one. Your child can still experience minor ailments but major diseases can be avoided with such timely vaccinations.

Immunization prevents children from getting sick by serious infectious diseases. Children who were affected by certain childhood diseases may face side effects and complications later in life. Immunization also prevents the disease from spreading to others. With more number of immunizations, diseases are prevented and controlled saving many lives.

What are the available types of vaccines?

Scientists constantly research on how the vaccines affect a child’s immune system, particularly with the behavior of bacteria and viruses set in various zones and climate conditions. At present, newborns and young children usually receive five types of vaccines. They are:

1) Live, attenuated vaccines - are dubbed as antivirus fighters. These types of vaccines have live but weakened viral strains. Although it can trigger a mild form of illness in children after vaccination, the illness does not progress into a full-blown disease since the viral strains are inactive and do not reproduce or replicate. These vaccines help our immune system to have a long-term immunity against viruses that cause mumps, measles, rubella, and chickenpox. However, for children who have certain underlying medical conditions such as cancer and HIV, they cannot receive these vaccines since their immune system is already compromised. 

2) Inactivated vaccines (polio) - are also types of vaccines that fight viruses. However, they contain dead or inactivated viruses, making them different from the attenuated ones. It takes longer for inactivated vaccines to take effect and build a strong immunity against diseases. For this reason, repeated shots or boosters are required. An example of an inactivated vaccine is the polio vaccine. The virus that causes polio is highly contagious that causes permanent damage to a person’s nervous system. That is why your baby cannot get the vaccine through injection of its live form.

3) Toxoid vaccines - are vaccines that protect the body against harmful bacteria. Note that these vaccines are produced to prevent certain bacterial infections and not viral infections. These vaccines are referred to as “toxoids” since they contain bacterial toxins. When the bacterial toxin gets into the body, our immune system produces antibodies against it. An example of a toxoid vaccine is DTaP, a vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. 

4) Subunit vaccines - are almost similar to inactivated vaccines since they do not have live pathogenic components. Their only difference with the inactivated vaccines is that the subunit vaccines contain only the antigenic component of the pathogen, which is enough to trigger a protective immune response in the body. The pertussis (whooping cough) component of DTaP is a subunit vaccine.

5) Conjugate vaccines - are created to fight various types of bacteria, such as the Haemophilus influenzae type B or Hib vaccine. This kind of vaccine is effective against bacteria that have a special sugar-like (polysaccharides) coating on their surfaces, which pushes away the antigen and make it impossible for a child's immune system to recognize the infection. Conjugate vaccines are of great help as they are the link between the polysaccharides and the antigen. Through their mechanism, they help the body memorize the antigen and build a proper immune response.

Is vaccination the only way of immunization?

Vaccination is not the only way of obtaining resistance to various infectious diseases. Natural immunity can be inborn. It is the body’s natural ability to guard itself against harmful microorganisms. This type of immunity is transferred from the mother to her baby. Some of these infections leave a lifetime immunity such as rubella.

Moreover, some of the antibodies are passed from a mother to a child while breastfeeding, regardless of how the mother was immunized against certain diseases. For example, if a pregnant woman was vaccinated with DTaP between 27-36 weeks of her pregnancy, the baby is protected from pertussis for another two months until the actual vaccination, provided that the infant is exclusively breastfed.  

A few millenniums ago, people were dying from smallpox and polio was a worldwide scare. People who were affected by polio were paralyzed for life. But today, scientists and researchers have developed vaccinations, which significantly reduced the cases of many diseases. In fact, through vaccinations, many diseases that killed or severely disabled people just a few generations ago were eliminated. Nowadays, there is no need for your children to get smallpox shots because the disease no longer exists. Vaccinations are an absolute necessity for children as well as adults.