With the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak comes reports of a vaccine. Those reports are true and you can read more about the coronavirus vaccine on BallisticMag.com. However, understanding how vaccines work is an important part of all this. So let’s dive in.
How Vaccines Work
When little Johnny comes home from the chicken pox party, his immune system has already recognized that something is wrong. It has one job and it gets to doing it. Specialized cells called B lymphocytes (B-cells) begin to produce antibodies. These antibodies attack and bind themselves to the antigen in order to neutralize it. The human body, day in and day out, produce millions of these antibodies to fight infections most people don’t even know they have.
However, in the case of Little Johnny, this can take a few days or weeks to ramp up; this is why his body will soon be speckled with pox. At the same time, his body creates new cells that have a memory of the chicken pox virus and stay ready—usually for a lifetime—to defend against the virus if it ever returns. This is your body’s immune system in a nutshell. It’s a collection of memory B-cell soldiers standing on the parapet to defend against whatever germs, bacteria, and viruses attempt to assail the ramparts.
B-cells and antibodies together fight a never-ending war of immunity. The body sees invading antigens introduced daily. The B-cells recognize the foreign body. They then produce a tremendous number of protective proteins that scour the body to remove all traces of that antigen. It is a miraculous system that allows your bloodline to survive every pathogen nature throws at it. However, it isn’t perfect and sometimes needs help.
Vaccines to the Rescue
A developed vaccine causes a similar response to your body’s immune system. Developed from actual virus cells that have been weakened so they can’t reproduce (or killed outright so they are inert), vaccines expose the patient to just the right amount of the virus to trigger an immune response, but not enough to make them sick. It is a delicate balance that only experimentation and clinical trials over months and years can flesh out.
The impotent virus—or a synthesis of the real thing—inside the vaccine triggers the immune system to respond to the enemy. The body produces antibodies and eradicates the antigen.
Vaccines exist for all manner of diseases, both viral and bacterial. Since the first successful vaccine for small pox was introduced in 1796, there has been a steady race to create a vaccine for the many diseases that plague society. However, a vaccine doesn’t work for all diseases. For example, vaccines against common cold are impossible to create because the virus is constantly and quickly changing and mutating. As well, a vaccine for the annual influenza is only effective against that year’s version of the flu. Each year, it must be redesigned for that specific influenza strain; that is why scientists develop a new vaccine for each flu season. Therefore, if you’re exposed to a different flu virus from the one you are vaccinated for, you can still catch the flu. It stands to reason why they suggest you get the flu vaccine annually.
The real reason vaccines work is not because it causes immunity to an individual but because it eradicates the virus from society in general. Called herd immunity, scientists discovered that if around 80 percent of the population were inoculated for a particular disease—say, polio—then the disease will eventually disappear. Those who can’t be vaccinated because they are too young or too weak likely won’t come in contact with the disease. They, in turn, remain safe.
Though the microscopic battle goes on inside your body every day, scientists are working tirelessly to develop vaccines to counter new strains of old diseases or battle never-before-seen diseases such as COVID-19.