Vaccines: Building Bridges for Worldwide Immunization

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Many of us have received vaccinations for diseases such as polio and rabies, and most recently, the coronavirus. Have you ever wondered about the nature of these injections and liquid drops? These preventive measures are known as vaccines, which work by stimulating the body’s immune system to build immunity against specific diseases. So, let’s dive in to understand this concept closely and in detail.

What are Vaccines?

A vaccine is a biological preparation that provides immunity against a specific disease by introducing a weakened, killed, or fragmented microorganism or toxin into the body. This stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies, offering protection against the disease.

Vaccination is the process of administering a vaccine to induce immunity against a particular disease. It is a crucial tool in eradicating and preventing infectious diseases such as smallpox and chickenpox. Vaccinations are done to prevent diseases rather than treat them after an infection has occurred.

How Do Vaccines Work?

Vaccines work by imitating an infection in the body to engage its natural defenses. They work by triggering the body’s natural immune response without causing illness. When a person gets a vaccine, the immune system responds to the antigen as if it were exposed to the actual germ, making antibodies and remembering how to defeat it. Essentially, vaccines train the immune system to protect against harmful germs. This way, if the body gets exposed to the actual germ in the future, the immune system can recognize it right away and quickly fight it off to prevent the disease.

How are Vaccines Made?

Vaccines are made using several basic strategies. One common approach involves weakening the virus so that it reproduces poorly in the body. Another method involves using commands for cells to produce a viral protein from the virus that triggers an immune response. Additionally, vaccines are made up of whole bacteria, viruses, or parts of them, often proteins or sugars known as antigens, which trigger an immune response in the body. The process of developing new vaccines typically takes about 10 years and involves several stages, including choosing the disease to target and selecting the best platform to produce an immune response.

Exploring the Different Types of Vaccines

There are several types of vaccines, each with different characteristics and uses. Below are some of them:

●     Live-Attenuated Vaccines

These vaccines contain live viruses that have been weakened or altered to not cause illness. This includes vaccinations against measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), varicella (chickenpox), and influenza.

●     Inactivated or Killed Vaccines

These types of vaccinations are created by inactivating a pathogen, generally using chemicals such as formalin or formaldehyde or heat. This destroys the pathogen’s ability to replicate while keeping it intact so that it remains recognizable to the immune system. This includes vaccinations for polio (IPV), hepatitis A, and rabies.

●     Subunit, Polysaccharide, Recombinant, and Conjugate Vaccines:

These vaccines use only specific pieces of the germ, such as its protein, casing, or sugar. Conjugate vaccines, for example, are produced by chemically attaching a polysaccharide from the surface of bacteria to a protein molecule through a process called conjugation. These vaccinations are effective against Haemophilus influenzae type b and pneumococcal conjugate vaccines.

●     Toxoid Vaccines

These vaccines use a toxin (a harmful product) made by the germ. An example of this is the tetanus vaccine.

●     mRNA Vaccines

mRNA vaccines use messenger RNA to give instructions to cells on making viral protein from a germ or virus and send the trigger to the immune system. An example of this is the COVID-19 vaccine.

Government Initiatives and Contributions for Vaccines

Various countries have taken steps toward promoting vaccination awareness, with government bodies and organizations putting in significant efforts. Below are some major efforts taken by them.

  • WHO is collaborating with countries and partners to enhance global vaccination coverage. Its Immunization Agenda 2030 (IA2030) is a global approach to vaccinations and immunization, aiming to address challenges like Ebola and COVID-19.
  • The U.S. government played a vital role by donating half a billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to countries in need. It also announced plans to increase investment in the Initiative for Global Vaccine Access (Global VAX) for expediting vaccine delivery, supporting communications campaigns, and building vaccination confidence globally.
  • The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) provides recommendations that are utilized to create the official U.S. adult and childhood immunization schedules. These recommendations are based on factors such as the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, the severity of the disease, and the number of people affected by the disease.

Bottom Line

Vaccines have revolutionized public health by providing an effective means of preventing infectious diseases. It plays a vital role in reducing illness, disability, and the number of deaths. Vaccines have not only saved countless lives but have also contributed to the destruction or near-destruction of several fatal diseases. Their ongoing development, distribution, and administration remain essential to safeguarding global health and well-being. As we continue to navigate the challenges of emerging infectious diseases and strive for equitable access to vaccinations, the role of vaccines in protecting individuals, communities, and future generations remains paramount.

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