General Question

SarahBeth's avatar

How exactly do Vaccines work?

Asked by SarahBeth (110points) June 10th, 2009

I would like to know how getting a vaccination prevents you from contracting a disease? I’m very interested in finding out exactly how it works in order to make a more informed decision on how i feel about vaccinations in general.

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18 Answers

casheroo's avatar

This looks like a good site with information
I’m sure if you have more specific question Shilolo can answer. Or Dr. C.

Mtl_zack's avatar

A vaccination has the virus that is being fought. Your immune system will fight this controlled version, and will get used to it so when you do get infected your body already knows how to fight it. When you get sick with a virus and are cured, you always still have the virus in you, but it is under control by your immune system.

crisw's avatar

In brief, a vaccine contains something that resembles an organism that causes a disease, but cannot itself cause that disease,. Sometimes this is a killed organism, or a weakened one, or part of one.

Our immune system attacks this harmless “invader”, learning to recognize it and make antibodies against it, so it’s ready if it meets the real thing.

SarahBeth's avatar

ahhh ok thankyou. i am understanding more fully already. Follow up question (if that’s ok on here.. im still learning how this site works) What if you get the first of a series of shots needed for a vaccination, but then never get the last one? Is this dangerous in any way? or just ineffective?

crisw's avatar

It isn’t dangerous in and of itself, but it may be ineffective because not enough immune response is stimulated.

sap82's avatar

I suggest you start with a link and work your way from there.

casheroo's avatar

@SarahBeth Which vaccination?

SarahBeth's avatar

@casheroo gardasil. i got the first shot, and was never able to get the rest.

casheroo's avatar

@SarahBeth Hmm, their site says it comes in three doses. Why haven’t you gotten the rest of the doses if you already began treatment? I don’t think you can start over, but you should ask your doctor.

crisw's avatar

Why are we getting so many Gardasil questions recently, I wonder?

To the OP- there’s some good info (and some not-so-good info; read carefully!) here and here.

SarahBeth's avatar

@casheroo its a long story. I dont have health insurance right now, but I am able to get birth control from my local health department. I’ll make it a point to speak with the nurse there about it. Thanks. I’ve been putting it off. I know… Shame, Shame Sarah beth.

SarahBeth's avatar

@crisw I didn’t mean for this to be a gardasil discussion. I was reading through the conversation you all were having about it and realized i needed more information about vaccines in general in order to know i feel about it.

crisw's avatar


No problem- thanks for asking! As shilolo mentioned in that discussion, a lot of the fear of vaccines is generated by ignorance of how they work.

SarahBeth's avatar

@crisw exactly! i realize now that i had skepticism of vaccines based only on my lack of understanding of how they work. Thankyou so much for your help!

shilolo's avatar

@SarahBeth As @crisw said, different vaccines work in different ways. Some are designed to generate antibodies to prevent infection from the real pathogen (not all are viruses, many are bacteria), while others are designed to elicit certain killer cells in the body.

oratio's avatar

@shilolo Oh. I had no idea there were cancer vaccines developed. Interesting aspect, that cancer cells are destroyed by the body’s own immune system.

shilolo's avatar

@oratio Well, depending on your viewpoint, one can envision both the HPV and HBV vaccines as cancer vaccines in that they work to prevent two virally induced cancers. As for your other comment, it is true that a major reason why we don’t get more cancers is that our immune systems actively suppress the growth of abnormal malignant cells.

fathippo's avatar

yeah i thought it was that you are injected with a dead/ dormant version of the virus/ bacteria, and you produce the antibodies that are the specific shape/ design for engulfing the certain pathogen kinda thing…
so then if you get infected later, you already have antibodies prepared to fight this type of invading cell (or whatever they are) so it’s easier to reproduce them…
and probably the antitoxins come with that

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