How does a vaccine work?


What is vaccination?

Vaccination is the safest way to protect your child against an infectious disease. Once your child has been vaccinated, they should have the ability to fight off the disease if they come into contact with it. They will have a level of protection, or immunity, against the disease.

How does vaccination work?

The immune system is a network of cells, tissues and organs that work together to help fight off infection from harmful bacteria or viruses. When a disease-causing agent, such as virus or bacteria, invades your body, your immune system recognizes it as harmful and will trigger a response to destroy it.

One of the ways your immune system fights off infection is by creating large proteins known as antibodies. These antibodies act as scouts, hunting down the infectious agent, and marking it for destruction by the immune system. Each antibody is specific to the bacteria or virus that it has detected and will trigger a specific immune response.

These specific antibodies will remain in the immune system after the infection has gone. This means that if the same disease is encountered again, your immune system has a ‘memory’ of the disease and is ready to quickly destroy it before you get sick and any symptoms can develop.
Sometimes, however, the immune system doesn’t always win this initial battle against the harmful bacteria or virus and you can become very ill or in extreme cases die. Vaccination is the safest and most common way to gain immunity against a bacteria or virus that your body has yet to encounter. Vaccines contain a harmless form of the bacteria or virus that causes the disease you are being immunised against.

The bacteria or virus will be killed, greatly weakened, or broken down into small parts before use in the vaccine so that they can trigger an immune response without making you sick. Your immune system will still attack the harmless form of bacteria or virus from the vaccine and will produce antibodies to fight it off. The immune system then keeps a memory of the disease, so if a vaccinated person encounters the disease years later, their immune system is ready to fight it off and prevent an infection from developing.

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