How do vaccines work? (Thinkstock)
How do vaccines work?
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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)
  • ethano-Goo
    4/30/2015 - 09:03 a.m.

    There are many reasons why our bodies immune system can't always defend us from every disease. The text states that "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." The text also states that by having to create a unique way of stopping every new disease it takes along time to do and if the virus is aggressive it might not give our body the chance to defend itself. The examples from the text are why the immune system cant defend us from everything.

  • jaacklahaye52
    4/30/2015 - 12:50 p.m.

    Wow, that is very interesting. Have you ever wondered who made the first vaccine? Well, I did some research, and it goes way back. In 1000 CE, the Chinese made the first vaccine. How would the Chinese make a vaccine? Well, they would take a scab off of a sick person, grind it up to a powder, and insert the powder up the nose of a non-sick person thus creating a vaccine.

  • MarilynEngelhardt
    4/30/2015 - 12:53 p.m.

    It's fascinating that simple vaccines can do so much. I did some further research and read that in the past 60 years, vaccines caused the disease Small Pox to be eliminated. It also states that vaccines have prevented more than 2.5 million deaths a year. Between 2000 and 2008, vaccines helped reduce measles deaths globally by 78%. Also, some vaccines aren't given orally instead of shots. Another fact is that there are existing vaccines that could stop rotavirus and pneumonia, two conditions that kill nearly three million kids under the age of five each year. Overall, vaccines are a great way to help prevent lots of diseases. More people should consider getting one to help themselves and others.

  • 1GracieH
    4/30/2015 - 01:03 p.m.

    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. 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.

  • yarelyo-Koc
    4/30/2015 - 02:29 p.m.

    It's weird how they work . Who would have thought that just by sticking a needle in your arm and having something injected into your arm could work so good . Or have such a weird way of working .

  • yarelyo-Koc
    4/30/2015 - 02:30 p.m.

    It's weird how they work . Who would have thought that just by sticking a needle in your arm and having something injected into your arm could work so good . Or have such a weird way of working .

  • JackB2-Bru
    4/30/2015 - 02:59 p.m.

    I think the main idea is about vaccines because in the text it says vaccines are a stupendously brilliant way to train ourselves to fight some downright nasty sicknesses. Also it says that we need to develop unique ammo for each one. Another thing it says is that thanks to vaccines smallpox is a thing of the past. That is why I think the main idea is about vaccines.

  • azaylag-Koc
    4/30/2015 - 03:54 p.m.

    I feel That not every vaccine we get protects us , I think some make it worse. Our bodies can't defend us from every disease because we're not immune to the illness.

  • LukeM-5
    4/30/2015 - 10:56 p.m.

    this article is about vaccines and how they work. the article said they work by injecting u with a very small amount of the disease so your body will create antibody's for that disease so if u get it it will fell like nothing and be gone in no time

  • thanhn-Koc
    5/02/2015 - 11:27 p.m.

    I like to think of vaccines as studying for a test. I prepare so that I don't get an F. Getting a vaccine will prepare my body to fight against a certain pathogen.

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