What is a vaccine?
A vaccine is a substance that is prepared from a disease-causing pathogen or organism that causes a disease or its parts or substances that replicate the organism. Once introduced into the host’s body, a vaccine provides immunity against the disease caused by the organism by stimulating the immune system to produce antibodies against it.
How do vaccines work?
A vaccine works by enabling your body’s immune system to identify and combat pathogenic organisms. This is done by introducing either weakened organisms or proteins used to identify the organisms into your body. The immune system identifies these structures known as antigens as foreign and produces antibodies to combat them. When the organism infects the body in the future, there is an aggravated response by the immune system to produce antibodies against it due to what is known as immunological memory. Immunological memory is the ability of the immune system to respond more rapidly and effectively to a previously encountered pathogen. This provides immunity against the disease.
Vaccines and herd immunity: What is the link?
When enough people in a population are protected from disease by vaccination, the chances of an outbreak are very less. There aren’t sufficient hosts for the pathogenic organism to survive in the population and the disease will die out completely. This protects others in a population as well who are not vaccinated. This includes elderly people, young children and babies as well as those with a weak or compromised immune system.
Is there a vaccine for COVID-19 yet?
It seems like we are stuck in a state of quiescence, with no end in sight. Currently, the only way to contain the virus in the absence of a vaccine is by following practices of social distancing, wearing masks and avoiding crowds along with testing and tracing of contacts. However, these methods are not fool-proof and are difficult to follow all the time.
Russia has announced the approval of its COVID-19 vaccine in August. However, whether adequate research and trials have gone into its release is still under speculation.
The United States Government has promised funding of up to ten billion dollars for a program known as the Operation Warp Speed. This aims to significantly reduce the time to develop a vaccine and complete clinical trials as well as ensure rapid production of millions of doses as soon as the FDA approval is obtained.
Promising vaccines for COVID-19 are under development in India, The United Kingdom, The United States of America and China. However, scientists have not been able to develop effective vaccines against the Coronavirus family of viruses till today. It is also still not known if these viruses can mutate to escape the body’s immune system even after vaccination.
Types of immunization: How are vaccines made?
Scientists have developed different types of vaccines and many ways of injecting antigens from organisms into the human body without causing any harm, but still stimulating the immune system:
Examples of live attenuated vaccines include the live viral vaccine known as MMR vaccine given for immunity against measles, mumps and rubella in combination and the BCG vaccine for Tuberculosis. Certain influenza vaccines are also live attenuated.
Examples of inactivated vaccines include Injectable Polio Vaccine (IPV), Hepatitis A vaccine and the Rabies vaccine.
Vaccination for babies and children during COVID-19: What is recommended?
This is a common query for parents and has been addressed by the World Health Organisation (WHO). WHO has stated that irrespective of the global pandemic, it is still important for babies to get vaccinated in the second, fourth, sixth, twelfth and thirteenth months. Most children do not get severely ill from a Coronavirus infection, but vaccine-preventable diseases can be very dangerous if contracted. So, it is best to stick to your child’s vaccination schedule and avoid missing their shots.