How Vaccines Work

The search for a vaccine has never been so urgent, as it is now in the times of coronavirus pandemic. Several pharmaceutical companies and institutions are working 24/7 to develop a vaccine for Covid-19. So, how does a vaccine work and how it is better than medicine? Well, here are the answers you are looking for.

How vaccines work

Vaccines work by essentially preparing our immune system to identify and eliminate bacteria, viruses and other harmful microorganisms that may have entered our body. It’s similar to getting military training before one actually enters the battle. White blood cells are the primary components of our immune system. These are akin to foot soldiers that do all the hard work.

White blood cells that function as immune cells primarily comprise of macrophages, B-lymphocytes and T-lymphocytes. Here’s a brief description of the three immune cells.

  • Macrophages – These work like scavengers, swallowing and digesting germs as well as dead or dying cells. They leave behind antigens, which are parts of the invading microorganisms. Antigens trigger the release of antibodies that eliminate these unwanted microscopic components.
  • B-lymphocytes – These cells release antibodies to clear out antigens that could not be removed by macrophages.
  • T-lymphocytes – When germs enter a cell, it becomes difficult to identify them. This is where T-lymphocytes get into action. T-lymphocytes can identify infected cells and attack them.

Our immune system works in most parts, but it can take several days for the body to develop the right antibodies. This is especially true when the immune system faces an entirely new virus or bacteria. This is exactly where a vaccine is useful. A vaccine mimics an infection, which in turn trains the immune cells to attack the infection by producing the desired antibodies. As the vaccine only mimics the action of a virus / bacteria, it does not lead to disease. People may only experience minor symptoms such as fever, which goes away on its own.

With a vaccine, the B-lymphocytes and T-lymphocytes develop the memory for attacking and eliminating the invading germs. So, the next time a real virus or bacteria enters the body, they know exactly what needs to be done.

Are vaccines better than medicine?

Quite true because vaccines are based on a proactive approach to tackle infection caused by harmful microorganisms. It’s like entering the battle with full details about the enemy and how to eliminate them. Vaccines are also better, as they utilize the body’s own defenses to fight infection. In comparison, medicines are based on a reactive approach. They may or may not work depending on the condition of the patient and the stage of infection. Medicines target the germs directly and may have moderate to severe side effects. Moreover, germs are more likely to develop immunity against medicines, as compared to vaccines. Due to these reasons, vaccines are usually considered better than medicines.

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