Since the COVID-19 pandemic, “vaccination” is a term that is circulating in our conversations.
So, what is vaccination and how does it work? Are there risks in vaccination?
Here is a simple guide to understanding vaccination.
There are various types of vaccines, but essentially vaccines build up our bodies’ immunity. They help the body gain better protection against specific diseases. They are essentially the ‘preventive measure’ that is better than ‘the cure’.
To understand how vaccines work, we must first understand how our body naturally combat diseases.
The Immune System
The Immune system is the body’s defense mechanism against all sorts of infections.
External to our bodies lie a myriad of tiny foreign organisms. They are invisible to our naked eyes because of their micro sizes. Scientists have estimated that we come into contact with 60,000 different types of microorganisms daily. While not all of them are harmful, it is worth thinking how we are kept protected from the harmful ones known as pathogens.
The answer lies in our immune system. Most might already know that the immune cells in our blood are known as white blood cells. They help to fight pathogens that we come into contact with daily. They keep sickness at bay.
Like the immense variety of microorganisms, there are also various types of white blood cells. Here are a few significant ones that will help us understand vaccines better later on:
We possess such an intricate immune system that helps to fend us from these invisible threats. The first time a person is infected, it usually causes the development of a disease along with symptoms. During this period, the immune cells would assemble and identify these pathogens and remember them.
Then, these immune cells are now able to remember the specific pathogen after recovery. When the person encounters the same pathogens in the future, the immune system can now combat more readily, thus not having an onset of the disease. This is also known as natural active immunity (‘Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’, 2020).
You may then ask, why do we still need vaccines if we have our immune system?
While our body’s own immune system is very competent, microorganisms like viruses or bacteria have their own tricks up their sleeves.
Some pathogens have a high infection rate. They invade and proliferate rapidly before the immune system can act. There are also other mechanisms where they can bypass the immune system. All these lead to an inevitable infection and disease onset. Some infections are more severe than others and that is why vaccines are needed. Vaccination is also known as artificial active immunity.
What are the types of Vaccines and how do they work?
Conventional vaccines are essentially weakened or dead pathogens that are administered into the human body. They are also known as live-attenuated and inactivated vaccines respectively. These vaccines help trigger the immune system to “prepare” to fight whenever the person encounters the same pathogen again in the future. Because these pathogens are weakened or dead, it does not cause the development of a disease.
Modern vaccines utilize a similar concept. They include genetic-based vaccines such as DNA or RNA vaccines which are safer due to the absence of the whole virus unit. These vaccines like the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine utilize the genetic information from the virus to instruct the production of a harmless protein unique to the specific virus.
The protein is then recognized, destroyed and remembered by the immune cells. Whenever the virus is encountered again, the immune cells will detect the presence of the unique protein to destroy the virus more effectively and efficiently (‘Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’, 2020).
Are there Risks to Vaccinations?
Vaccination brings with it some risks. There are certain side-effects in vaccination as do most medications. Nonetheless, the benefits outweigh the risks.
While there is a large circulation of severe risks in vaccination, they are largely untrue or founded on misconceptions.
Vaccination may cause mild symptoms like mild fever, chills, muscle and joint aches, fatigue and headache. These are actually normal after vaccination and they should come to an end after a couple of days. They are not major concerns as the mild symptoms actually indicate that the body is building immunity.
There are also more serious adverse effects like allergic reactions, but they are rare. A common myth is that vaccination causes autism, however this has been verified to be false (‘Vaccines.gov’, 2020).
Immunization through vaccination has saved and is saving millions of lives. According to the World Health Organization, there are vaccines now that enable the prevention of more than 20 life-threatening diseases. Vaccines have helped to secure longer and healthier livelihoods. It is also said that 2-3 million deaths are prevented yearly because of vaccinations (‘World Health Organization’, n.d.).
Malaysia has implemented many vaccinations to be compulsory for everyone. They are administered to children at different stages of their early months or years. You may refer to this CodeBlue article for more information:
Malaysia Updates Child Immunisation Schedule With Hexavalent Vaccine
It is our desire that this little piece of information has increased the collective awareness of the value of vaccines especially for our children and for the safety of the population as well. Let us also be wise consumers who are concerned and responsible over both our health and our children’s.