How Do Vaccines Work? The Basics Explained


Pop quiz: What has been one of the most effective advances in medical history?

Many experts would argue the answer is vaccines. Shots have curbed the spread of some diseases and eliminated others. Doctors recommend vaccines for everyone, and most children in the United States begin receiving vaccines in infancy.

The recent spread of COVID-19 has prompted the creation of the world’s first mRNA vaccines. But how do vaccines work in the first place?

Below, we’ll go into how the different types of vaccines function. Read more to learn more about how vaccines keep you and your community safe!

How Do Vaccines Work? Your Body’s Natural Response

So, how do vaccines work, and why are they such a popular part of modern medicine? Healthy humans have a natural, immune response to disease. When the body encounters a bacteria or virus, it begins to fight the disease. This is when someone begins to show symptoms of being sick.

Yet, people aren’t born with robust immune systems. Instead, our immune response is stronger if our body has fought off the sickness before. We develop immunity through exposure to certain illnesses, but we are still vulnerable to many dangerous diseases.

To protect people, doctors introduce the disease to their patient’s bodies. This gives it time to develop antibodies, crucial agents in the immune response. The antibodies can then react to the virus or bacteria the next time it encounters it.

The version of the disease isn’t strong enough to seriously hurt the patient. Some patients report feeling feverish after their shots, but this is a sign the body is learning to fight the disease. If you experience severe pain or illness, talk to your physician.

Types of Vaccines

There are many different types of vaccines, and they work in different manners.

Sometimes, the shot injects you with a weakened and killed version of the disease. Your body then has the chance to learn about the properties of the disease. It learns to identify the disease and will know how to fight it off if you encounter the live version. Some examples of these types of vaccines include rubella, chickenpox, smallpox, etc.

Other vaccines introduce a protein or toxin associated with the disease. The body then learns to identify and attack the foreign substance, building a response.

COVID-19 triggered the first massive rollout of mRNA vaccines. Instead of introducing a bacteria, virus, protein, or toxin, the shots contain messenger RNA. The messenger RNA contains instructions for your body to produce the protein associated with COVID-19. Then, your body fights it off.

Want to learn more? Take a look at quotes from Dr. Kenneth Chien!

Ready to Learn More?

Now that we’ve answered the question “how do vaccines work?” we can confidently say: vaccines have kept our society safer for centuries.

Ever since they were introduced, they have helped us bolster our immune responses to different diseases. As such, keeping up on our vaccinations is an essential part of protecting ourselves and our communities.

Want to learn more? Check out the rest of our health-related articles today!