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Vaccines: Your New Best Friend

In recent weeks we have seen lockdown gradually reducing itself, allowing the country to start getting its social life back and we can finally go for that refreshing pint in a beer garden. In my last few articles I have taken a look at hand sanitisers and face coverings, which are still the top tier way for reducing the spread of the virus along with social distancing. In this article we will be looking at how to prevent the spread of the virus in future through effective vaccinations against COVID-19. Now, most of you reading this article will have had a vaccine at some point in your life whether it be measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) when you are born or from typhoid and polio vaccines if you are away travelling. These little wonders have been around for well over 100 years keeping humanity safe - the World Health Organisation recognises there are 26 available vaccines in the world with dozens more in the pipeline. As per my usual layout I will dive into the topic of vaccines and uncover what they are, what they do, the different types of vaccine and why you should get vaccinated now and in the future. 

What Is a Vaccine?

A vaccine stimulates your immune system to produce antibodies, exactly like it would if you were exposed to the disease. After getting vaccinated, you develop immunity to that disease, without having to get the disease first. Vaccines contain the same germs that cause disease. (For example, measles vaccine contains measles virus, and Hib vaccine contains Hib bacteria.) But they have been either killed or weakened to the point that they don’t make you sick. Some vaccines contain only a part of the disease germ. This is what makes vaccines such powerful medicine. Unlike most medicines, which treat or cure diseases, vaccines prevent them.

Who Invented The Vaccine?

Edward Jenner is considered the founder of vaccinology in the West in 1796, after he inoculated a 13 year-old-boy with vaccinia virus (cowpox), and demonstrated immunity to smallpox. In 1798, the first smallpox vaccine was developed. Over the 18th and 19th centuries, systematic implementation of mass smallpox immunisation culminated in its global eradication in 1979.  

Are There Different Types of Vaccines?

Yes, there are four different classes of vaccines. Each type of vaccine is designed to teach the immune system how to fight off different germs. When vaccines are created scientists take into consideration who needs the vaccination, how will the immune system respond to the germ, and the best technology to approach the vaccination. 

Inactivated vaccines: Inactivated vaccines use the killed version of the germ that causes a disease. Inactivated vaccines usually don’t provide immunity (protection) that’s as strong as live vaccines. So you may need several doses over time (booster shots) in order to get ongoing immunity against diseases.Examples of inactivated vaccines are Polio, Hepatitis A, Rabies, and the flu shot.

Live vaccines: A vaccine made from a virus that has been weakened so it does not cause the disease the virus usually causes. A live virus vaccine helps the body’s immune system recognise and fight infections caused by the non-weakened form of the virus. Examples of live vaccines include MMR, smallpox, chickenpox, and yellow fever

Toxoid vaccines: They use the harmful product created by the germ to cause the disease.They create immunity to the parts of the germ that cause a disease instead of the germ itself. In essence, the immune response is targeted to the toxin instead of the whole germ. You may need to get ongoing booster shots to get continual immunisation against these diseases. Toxoid vaccinesare used against diphtheria and tetanus

Conjugate vaccines: These use specific parts of the germ such as the sugar, proteins, or capsid (lining around the germ). These give a very strong immunity to the targeted parts of the germ. Examples of conjugate vaccines are human papilloma virus (HPV), shingles, and Hepatitis B.

Why Should I Get Vaccinated?

Vaccination is the most important thing we can do to protect ourselves and our children against ill health. They prevent more than 2.5 million deaths worldwide every year. Since vaccines were introduced in the UK, diseases like smallpox, polio and tetanus that used to kill or disable millions of people are either gone or seen very rarely. Other diseases like measles and diphtheria have been reduced by up to 99.9% since their vaccines were introduced. However, if people stop having vaccines, it's possible for infectious diseases to quickly spread again. 

All vaccines are thoroughly tested to make sure they will not harm you or your child. It often takes many years for a vaccine to make it through the trials and tests it needs to pass for approval. Once a vaccine is being used in the UK it's also monitored for any rare side effects by the Medicines and Healthcare and Regulation Agency (MHRA). Anyone can report a suspected side effect of vaccination to the MHRA through the Yellow Card Scheme. Side effects of vaccinations tend to be mild and only last a few days, for example redness of the area at the injection site and a mild self limiting cold. Some people are hesitant to get vaccines because of a supposed link to the MMR vaccine and autism - however there have been several studies to completely disprove this.

Similarly to the lockdown rules, as well as hand sanitising and social distancing, vaccines aren't only there to protect ourselves but also to protect the rest of the community and population from getting diseases.