What is a Vaccine?
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re going to be publishing a series of articles exploring vaccines. The UK has secured orders for 90 millions doses of a vaccine, however at the time of writing Russia is the only country to have approved a vaccine for use.
It’s been nearly six months since many parts of the world found themselves in lockdown as a response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. Our daily lives have changed inexplicably and some of the things we took for granted have been stripped from our lives.
But with lockdowns easing and infection rates dropping, the question on everyone’s lips is, “Is the pandemic finally coming to an end?” The answer, unfortunately, is a resounding no. While infection rates are being managed in most parts of the world, COVID-19 will never be fully under control until we have a way to prevent people from catching it and this is where a vaccine comes in.
What exactly is a vaccine?
A vaccine is a variety of medication that tells the body’s immune system how to fight disease. Our bodies are amazing things and can adapt to a wide variety of medical emergencies. The problem with new viruses is that we have never come into contact with them before, so our immune systems have no idea how to combat them. Eventually, our bodies learn (this is where antibodies come in) but this can, unfortunately, be too late for some people. A vaccine is designed to prevent a virus or disease, not treat them once you’ve already caught it.
Vaccines help to prepare your immune system
A vaccine can help protect us from certain diseases. Vaccines often contain a weakened or dead version of the microbe which helps your immune system to recognise the microbe and develop an immunity which should protect it from the actual virus.
How do vaccines work?
When our bodies encounter a virus, they (eventually) create something called an antibody to combat the disease. These antibodies are special proteins that destroy the virus and free us of infection. A vaccine fools the body into thinking that we are infected to provoke the same antibody response without making us sick. This response will have varying lengths of protection based on the virus in question, but most will protect a person for a minimum of a few months.
Once antibody-producing cells (B lymphocytes) have been stimulated by the vaccine they become sensitised and prepared to respond to the virus in the wild.
While we strive to provide accurate information at the time of writing, the rapidly evolving nature of the pandemic may mean that there are some inaccuracies. Please refer to GOV.UK for the latest information.
It is strongly recommended that speak to your doctor if you have questions about vaccines and/or COVID-19.