With all the talk around coronavirus and a future vaccine coming down the pipeline we thought it would be a good time to explore the world of vaccines. We know some people are hesitant about vaccines and some people are ready to be the first one in line, but everyone has different opinions and that is okay. We are all people with ideas about how to take care of our health and being the patient is an important role in the healthcare team because ultimately your decisions carry the biggest weight. To start I want to emphasize that this is not a pro or anti vaccine article, this is for everyone to read and to learn a little more about vaccines and how they work to give you more information moving forward.
Back to the Basics – your immune system
To start I want to explain to you a little about how your immune system works. There are two important parts to your immune system – the innate system and adaptive system. The innate system includes physical barriers (your skin, eyelashes, nose hairs), defense mechanisms (secretions, mucous, stomach acid, saliva, tears), and inflammation (this brings immune cells to the site of infection by increasing blood flow to the area and creating a marker for cells to kill the foreign particles). This system is your body’s first line of defense against anything that is “non-self” meaning anything that is foreign to our body and that shouldn’t normally be there.
Our second line of defense is called our adaptive system. This system uses “antigens” (foreign substance in our body that causes an immune response) to build antibodies against them. This system is much slower to respond to threats than the innate system, but this system is what gives us long lasting immunity as our cells gain a “memory” so if you get infected again they already know how to attack. These two systems work together to fight off any illnesses and learn to be prepared if these illnesses ever come back.
So how does a vaccine work along with the immune system? Vaccines contain really tiny amounts of the antigen. From this, our body has an immune response to the antigen and forms antibodies which destroy it and create a memory to remember how to fight off the antigen again if it ever comes back. Think of this as training your body how to combat the bad guys.
There are multiple different types of vaccines that exist and while some are fairly new, some have been around for years. There are Live Attenuated Vaccines (Examples: Varicella, MMR, Zostavax) which are made from viruses or bacteria and then when injected it replicates to mimic the natural infection causing the immune system to be stimulated. The other type are inactivated vaccines (Examples: Pertussis, Hepatitis, most influenza vaccines) that are also made from viruses or bacteria but it is typically only small parts of it. These do not replicate because the virus is killed, but the amount of antigen in the vaccine can still stimulate an immune response. Both build an immune response, they just do it in different ways.
While this activates your immune system many people don’t experience any side effects other than a slightly sore arm from the injection. Most common side effects of a vaccine typically are having flu-like symptoms for a few days such tiredness, fever, or overall malaise, but this does differ from vaccine to vaccine. One concern I do want to debunk is the risk of autism due to vaccines. The study published in the Lancet in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield only included 8 children with no control group. This study ended up being pulled from the journal and Mr. Wakefield has lost his medical license due to being dishonest in his research, acting against the best interest in his patients and mistreating developmentally delayed children. Since this time there have been many studies showing that this outcome was not the case.
We understand that having something injected into your body may be concerning to you, so if there is anything that worries you about getting a vaccine this is a great thing to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about to see if a vaccine is right for you.
Vaccines have helped protect people from a variety of viruses and has eradicated polio in North America. With this novel coronavirus we have a small glimpse of how important vaccines can be to protect ourselves, our friends and our families. This is why we talk about “herd immunity”. This type of immunity is when so many people have the vaccine that the people who are not able to get the vaccine (certain vaccines are not available to infants and the elderly, as well as people who have suppressed immune systems from cancer treatments, HIV, autoimmune disorders, etc) have such a low chance of getting sick because people are unable to spread the virus further.
We hope this blog gave you a little insight into the world of vaccines and how they work, but we understand there may be many more questions. Please comment below, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or give us at call at 204-942-0573 for more questions.
All information for this article was taking from the APhA Immunization Certification, CDC, Health Canada and WHO.