Vaccines a critical part of preventative health care

You may think you are healthy and strong. Yet all it takes is a minuscule, invisible scrap of life called a virus to send you whimpering to your bed or, in some cases, to the hospital. Viruses are a pernicious part of this planet, causing illnesses that vary from the annoying to the life threatening. How can you protect yourself? Get vaccinated.
The human body is set up to respond to invasion by viruses and bacteria by activating its immune system. The immune system, which is made up of cells, tissues and organs, sends cells to neutralize invaders that have entered the body and expel them. Bacteria and viruses have proteins on their surfaces called antigens. Think of them as bumps on the outside of a small ball. When the antigens link to cells involved in the immune system called antibodies, those cells are able to “remember” the pattern of the antigens. The human immune system learns from experience to defend the body from future attacks by cells bearing those particular bumps.
A vaccine is made from very small amounts of weak or dead viruses that can cause illnesses such as influenza, shingles, or pneumonia, among others.

The virus for chickenpox and shingles has extensions with receptors at the ends, called antigens, which the body’s antibodies can recognize. Image courtesy of CG&G News.

“Once you receive the vaccine, your body activates the immune system; antibodies are deployed and learn to “recognize” that virus. When you next are exposed to the virus, the immune system is ready to go to squelch the invader.”

In some instances, the immune system remembers the virus for your entire life. People who have been vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox and yellow fever have long-lasting protection. Others, like vaccinations for influenza or tetanus, need to be repeated. Some vaccines are designed to use just specific parts of the virus to cause a strong and very targeted immune system response. This is why the vaccines for illnesses such as whooping cough, meningitis and shingles tend to be very powerful and long-lasting.
Fall is the time of year when public health agencies begin to encourage people to get their annual flu vaccine. The reason a flu vaccine is recommended annually is because the influenza virus changes every year. The virus has the ability to randomly mutate, very quickly, as well as to absorb the genetic material of other viruses. Pigs, as it turns out, are a perfect host for swine, avian and human viruses, which mix and exchange genetic material while in their bodies.
Because the influenza virus changes its shape, so to speak, each year, health officials have a challenge in figuring out what strain of the virus to vaccinate against. The World Health Organization typically decides each February which influenza strains are likely to be dominant in the fall and winter, allowing vaccine companies to produce the vaccine during the summer months. But February is a long way away from November, when the flu typically begins appearing in the United States. The virus can do some shape-shifting before then, making the designated vaccine less effective.
What’s important is that when enough people get vaccines for common illnesses, such as the flu, the virus has fewer human bodies in which to flourish. Viruses can travel quickly through a community and make a lot of people sick. If enough people get sick, it can lead to a widespread outbreak of the illness. But when enough people are vaccinated against a certain disease, the virus can’t travel as easily from person to person and the entire community is less likely to get the disease.

Once you receive the vaccine, your body activates the immune system; antibodies are deployed and learn to “recognize” that virus. When you next are exposed to the virus, the immune system is ready to go to squelch the invader.
In some instances, the immune system remembers the virus for your entire life. People who have been vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox and yellow fever have long-lasting protection. Others, like vaccinations for influenza or tetanus, need to be repeated. Some vaccines are designed to use just specific parts of the virus to cause a strong and very targeted immune system response. This is why the vaccines for illnesses such as whooping cough, meningitis and shingles tend to be very powerful and long-lasting.
Fall is the time of year when public health agencies begin to encourage people to get their annual flu vaccine. The reason a flu vaccine is recommended annually is because the influenza virus changes every year. The virus has the ability to randomly mutate, very quickly, as well as to absorb the genetic material of other viruses. Pigs, as it turns out, are a perfect host for swine, avian and human viruses, which mix and exchange genetic material while in their bodies.
Because the influenza virus changes its shape, so to speak, each year, health officials have a challenge in figuring out what strain of the virus to vaccinate against. The World Health Organization typically decides each February which influenza strains are likely to be dominant in the fall and winter, allowing vaccine companies to produce the vaccine during the summer months. But February is a long way away from November, when the flu typically begins appearing in the United States. The virus can do some shape-shifting before then, making the designated vaccine less effective.
What’s important is that when enough people get vaccines for common illnesses, such as the flu, the virus has fewer human bodies in which to flourish. Viruses can travel quickly through a community and make a lot of people sick. If enough people get sick, it can lead to a widespread outbreak of the illness. But when enough people are vaccinated against a certain disease, the virus can’t travel as easily from person to person and the entire community is less likely to get the disease.