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. Some infections work fast and furious, never really giving us a chance to defend ourselves. 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. That way 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 (103)
  • TylerL-Kut
    4/29/2015 - 09:12 a.m.

    I think that if scince can be advanced and study more we can stop viruses and disease easier like Ebola or even measles. I had my vaccine taken about a week ago I think this technology can be advanced over a long period of time. some kids have there vaccines taken as baby's yet that's not the case for me. Some diseases are quite a big problem in many country's like Africa and South America some diseases I can't even name.

  • lacim-Wre
    4/29/2015 - 12:15 p.m.

    Who wants to b e hurt with a needel i mean a needel going throw your body i mean why can doctors torcher all those inicent people thats rude when i see needels i will go crazzy

  • lacim-Wre
    4/29/2015 - 12:19 p.m.

    i cant let even one needel even get close to me they hurt to me i coll it torture and i dont like them even know they are good for you

  • brandi1018
    4/29/2015 - 01:27 p.m.

    This is really interesting! Vaccines are really helpful. Although they are not always 100% effective. Something interesting about them is that they use a little bit of the diseases to insert in you to make your body fight it so that it will know how if you ever get it. I believe that vaccines are one of the best shots there is.

  • brittanydandron99
    4/29/2015 - 01:37 p.m.

    I think it's a good thing we have vaccine shots to help prevent less sicknesses. Sometimes some vaccines can actually make you sick. Most the time they are good for you and actually work. My opinion is you should always get your vaccines! Whether you get sick or not.

  • Sandraj-OBr
    4/29/2015 - 01:39 p.m.

    Our bodies always defend us from disease, but it takes time. It could be too late for the immune system to detect and defend our body. Some viruses move faster than others, so it might be too late for the immune system to defeat them. A cool tip is that when you get a shot, relax, don't tense up, or it will hurt like crazy! If you tense up, the muscles don't like it, because it hurts and it won't be too easy to get out. When you pull it out while you are tensed-up, it will most likely draw up some blood with the needle.

  • BrynnDani
    4/29/2015 - 01:55 p.m.

    This article was very helpful to me. I can remember getting vaccines but I never understood why or how they worked to fight sickness. They are extremely important to living a long and healthy life.

  • Sarahs-OBr
    4/29/2015 - 01:56 p.m.

    I never thought that vaccines relate to battles. Although, we can't stay safe from everything. Vaccines are like weapons against bacteria, and we use certain vaccines for certian desieses. If we don't get a certain vaccine, our body won't fight the virus as well. Then we need help from doctors. or what about if you break a bone. You don't get a vaccine for that, you wouold need help from doctors too.

  • AJ_Slater
    4/29/2015 - 06:20 p.m.

    Vaccines are the modern day defences against disease. They are used to train our bodies to fight the diese. THey does this by giving the body a very small amount so the body will produce the correct white blood cells to deal with that sickness. I think this is an ingenious practice.

  • BrianneB-Bru
    4/29/2015 - 07:18 p.m.

    Prove your point:
    A vaccination is a well-compressed medicine to allow our immune system to react and defend properly against a specific virus or infection. The main idea of this article is allowing us to spontaneously have further informational knowledge of the power a vaccination can acquire to a single human being. "The genius of vaccines is that they get our bodies to prep defense strategies without us having to actually get sick." This quote simply implies the importance of vaccinations and what one must do to in order to stay amazingly healthy. "That way 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." This quote from the informational text above is stating our 'upper hand' and strategic well-provided attacking strategies our immune system must be ready for in order to keep us up and moving. "And though none is 100% effective, the more people in a population that get vaccinated the more we're able to control diseases." This quote solemnly states that even though nothing is ever '100% effective', we still have the greater division upon the disease because of the already provided defensive soldiers that have come to attack and defeat for greater health.

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