People often say, “vaccination is the best way to protect yourself." Knowing how vaccines work is the best way to understand the truth of this statement.
What is a vaccine?
Vaccines are an effective and safe way to build up your immunity. A vaccine involves administering an antigen, which is an inactive or attenuated form of a pathogen. This enables the body to produce antibodies in preparation for a future attack by the real pathogen. The vaccinated person's immune system can recognize the pathogen and fight the infection without suffering the consequences of illness.
How are vaccines administered?
Traditionally, a vaccine is often administered by injection. When you hear the word "vaccine," you probably have the image of a syringe in mind. However, some vaccines are administered intranasally or even orally.
What are vaccines made of?
There are many different technologies for creating vaccines. These technologies differ mainly in the method used to multiply the pathogen (bacterium or virus). In addition to the infectious agent, vaccines also contain several other components: adjuvants, which make the vaccine more effective; stabilizers, which prevent the pathogens from being destroyed before the vaccine is injected; and preservatives, which enable the vaccine to be stored for a longer period of time.
Why get vaccinated?
The purpose of vaccination is, of course, to protect against disease by building up individual immunity. But the benefits of vaccines don't stop there. Protection extends far beyond the individual. When a large proportion of a population is vaccinated against a disease, the risk of spread or an epidemic is greatly reduced. This is the principle of herd immunity. Getting vaccinated can also protect those close to you who might not be able to be vaccinated or for whom vaccination has not been effective.
How effective are vaccines?
The effectiveness of vaccines depends on several factors, including the vaccinated person's ability to build up immunity. This ability can be compromised by age, illness or medication that weakens the immune system. The effectiveness of a vaccine can also diminish over time, which is why some vaccines require a booster shot. Although vaccination is not 100% effective, according to the World Health Organization, it prevents over 2 million deaths worldwide every year. Many consider vaccination to be one of the greatest medical discoveries ever made.
Are vaccines safe?
Although vaccines are very safe, like all medicines, they can cause certain side effects. Most of the time, these are mild and temporary. These may include soreness at the injection site or a low-grade fever. These reactions are normal and nothing to worry about. Sometimes, fever may not appear until a few days after vaccination. In very rare cases, a severe allergic reaction may occur, which is why we recommend that you remain under observation for 15 minutes after vaccination.
Contrary to what some might think, since vaccines are composed of inactivated or weakened pathogens, they cannot transmit the disease they protect against.
How do I know if my vaccinations are up to date?
Since some vaccines require more than one dose, and others need booster doses, it's sometimes difficult to know whether your vaccination status is up-to-date. Your healthcare professional can access your vaccination record to validate the doses you have received in the past. They can then tell you which vaccines might be of benefit to you. The Quebec Immunization Program even covers many vaccines, subject to certain criteria. Ask your healthcare professional for more information.
To protect yourself and your loved ones, think about getting vaccinated!