How do vaccines work? (Thinkstock)
How do vaccines work?
Lexile

You asked us, how do vaccines work? Well, vaccines are basically a stupendously brilliant way to train ourselves to fight some downright nasty, even deadly diseases.

Let me explain.

When we get sick from viruses or bacteria, our immune system creates weapons that attack the invading germs, but every disease is a little different, so we need to develop unique ammo for each one.

And that can take time, which we don't always have, because some infections work fast and furious, never really giving us a chance to defend ourselves and the results can be deadly.

The genius of vaccines is that they get our bodies to prep defense strategies without us having to actually get sick. Many do it by carrying a weaker or dead version of the germ, just enough to signal to our body to go on the attack, but not so much that an infection flares up.

Our immune system then remembers the strategy for each defense, so if you ever come face to face with the real thing, we can get the upper hand by quickly pulling together a deadly strike force of our own. Many vaccines provide lifelong protection and though none is 100% effective, the more people in a population that get vaccinated the more we're able to control diseases.

Thanks to vaccines smallpox is a thing of the past.

Go science!

For more stories like this, check us out every day at smithsonian.com.

Go science, it's your birthday. Go science, it's your birthday.

Critical thinking challenge: Why can't our bodies always defend us from every disease?


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COMMENTS (29)
  • TaylorHartman-Ste
    4/29/2015 - 09:21 a.m.

    I am thankful that it is possible to keep these types of diseases away from us, but that does not mean that I will partake in any of it. I believe that vaccines have certain things in them that will danger us more in the future.

    • 3NathanG
      5/29/2015 - 10:43 a.m.

      Such as? vaccines don't contain anything that is a serious detriment to our health. If you don't wish to have vaccine shots, that is your choice. If someone around you is sick, I recomend maintaining a distance of two meters when possible, and wash your hands. This may lessen the chance of you getting sick.

  • NashMcComsey-Ste
    4/29/2015 - 10:10 a.m.

    With all the recent media hype about Vaccines causing autism, it is good to see an informed article on the subject. Proper knowledge is what is going to keep the world afloat in these times f hysteria

  • gerardob-Che
    4/29/2015 - 11:41 a.m.

    i think its okay that vaccines do this to us and that it protects us from diseases. i also think that many people dont realize that.

  • brianp-Che
    4/29/2015 - 11:44 a.m.

    Vaccines are probably the most undervalued invention i can think of right away. Yet they are extremely helpful in fighting diseases, and probably have saved a bunch of lives since they were invented. Im glad whoever engineered them and made them happen existed because without them we would probably have a much smaller population.

  • tyrekb-Che
    4/29/2015 - 01:45 p.m.

    In my opinion I do not thing that it works. I get it every year and most of the time I get sick like it don't work for me that's not saying that I don't work for other people.

  • makaylar-Che
    4/29/2015 - 01:49 p.m.

    our immune system is the key to everything that's what prevents us from getting sick so if you do get sick then you and your immune system are fighting the sickness and you are trying to fight it off but if you cant then you some kind of medication for it so that can help you fight it also. I will use a vaccine just to get rid of the sickness everyone doesn't like to get sick so they should get medicine or a shot to get rid of the virus or whatever it is.

  • Haley Patterson
    4/29/2015 - 01:50 p.m.

    Vaccines are probably the most undervalued invention i can think of right away. Yet they are extremely helpful in fighting diseases, and probably have saved a bunch of lives since they were invented. Im glad whoever engineered them and made them happen existed because without them we would probably have a much smaller population.

  • namelt-Che
    4/29/2015 - 01:53 p.m.

    Vaccines are used to cure diseases and other bad stuff. They are very helpful because they have medicines in them, so they can help with all the deadly illnesses. That's what vaccines are used for and they help with.

  • CharismaM
    4/29/2015 - 09:13 p.m.

    I feel as though vaccinations are under appreciated. People don't really think about how they protect us and keep us from getting sick. Without vaccines, there would be a lot more deadly diseases that we wouldn't be able to protect ourselves from.

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