From your annual flu shot to the immunizations you get as a baby, everyone’s heard of vaccines and how they protect you from infections. Vaccines are essential in preventing—and sometimes completely eradicating—diseases and infections. Scientists are always working to develop new vaccines that can make the world a healthier, safer place. How exactly do they do that? How do you make a vaccine, and how does it work? You can learn all about it with our basic guide to understanding how vaccines are made.
How Vaccines Work
The purpose of vaccines is to introduce your immune system to a certain virus in a safe, controlled environment. Vaccines contain a harmless sample of the virus, which will trigger an immune response. Your immune system can then learn how to recognize and fight the virus both now and in the case of future exposure. If you come into contact with the virus after getting its vaccine, your body will already be prepared to fight off the infection.
Different Types of Vaccines
The goal of a vaccine is to break a virus down into a sample that won’t make patients sick but will trigger enough of a response for them to build an immunity. Depending on the type of virus one is working with, there are a few ways to do this:
- Live, attenuated vaccines contain a living sample of the virus or bacteria that scientists have weakened. In its weakened state, the sample can’t spread and cause illness.
- Inactivated vaccines consist of dead samples of the virus. These often take multiple doses or booster shots to work effectively.
- Toxoid vaccines fight diseases that produce toxins in the body. Like live vaccines, they weaken these toxins so they cannot cause harm to your body.
- Subunit vaccines contain part of the virus or bacteria, preventing the entire germ from entering your body and causing harm.
- Conjugate vaccines deal with specific bacteria that have a sugar-like coating. This coating disguises the bacteria from young immune systems, but the vaccine links it to other recognizable pathogens. This teaches the immune system to recognize and fight off these sugar-coated germs.
Understanding how vaccines are made and what they do is an important part of living a healthy life. Scientists are always striving toward the next big vaccine that can change the world for the better. While vaccines come with their side effects, they’re an essential part of protecting yourself and your community from disease.