Vaccines – Antibodies That Protect Us From Disease

Vaccines are substances that help the body fight off diseases and illnesses. In the past they have helped save millions of lives around the world.

Diseases are often caused by bacteria or viruses that attack the human body. A vaccine is a dead or very weak form of such a virus. When you get a vaccination from your doctor the body it gets used to these weaker viruses and can produce antibodies which stay active for a long time. When the real virus or bacteria attack, the body becomes immune and can defend itself.

People can get their vaccinations in many forms. Very often the vaccine is injected into your body, but vaccines are also taken by mouth or are inhaled.

Although many vaccines protect you throughout your life, some provide immunity for only a certain time. Vaccines against the flu must be administered every year, because the flu virus can change or may appear in a different form.

Most people already have a certain amount of immunity in their bodies. It is passed to them from their mother. However, these antibodies do not protect a baby for a long time, so that many vaccines are given to infants in their first years.

Some illnesses only occur in certain areas. If you travel, for example, to tropical regions, you should get vaccines to protect you from yellow fever, malaria or hepatitis.

Vaccines have saved the lives of millions of people in the past and virtually eradicated many diseases. Smallpox, for example, was once one of the world’s most serious diseases, which killed millions every year. By the end of the 1970s smallpox had disappeared completely because nearly everyone was vaccinated.

The first vaccines were created towards the end of the 18th century. An English scientist, Edward Jenner, carried out experiments with cowpox, a milder form of smallpox. He found out that people who got cowpox rarely got ill from smallpox. In France, Louis Pasteur developed a weak form of rabies to protect people from dog bites. In the 20th century polio has been wiped out completely.

Today there are vaccines for many illnesses. The most common are the flu, cholera, the plague , hepatitis. Although vaccination is widely available and a part of the regular health program in almost all industrial countries, there are still countries, especially in the Third World where people die of serious diseases. Each year about three million children are killed by diseases that could have been prevented. In developing countries almost two thirds of all children are not vaccinated. The World Health Organization is fighting to provide vaccines for these children.

In March 2020, the World Health organization declared the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. While a typical vaccine takes years to develop , the pharmaceutical industry an effective vaccine in only 8 months. By the middle of 2021 over 80% of the population of higher and middle income countries had been vaccinated. In the meantime there are several vaccines and drugs that have been developed for the COVID-19 disease.

COVID-19 vaccine
Image : Spencerbdavis, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


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