How are vaccines developed?

How are vaccines developed?

Vaccinations have recently become a contentious issue. The online parenting community is at odds on whether or not vaccines are necessary. Some are even advocating against childhood vaccinations. Anti-vaxxers – the name for people who are against vaccinations – say that vaccines could be dangerous and also cause conditions like autism in children.

But, what exactly is a vaccine?

Vaccines are weakened versions of the disease or virus. Usually, the vaccines are created for particular viruses that have previously been prevalent or occurred en masse in a community or city.

Pathologists then take the virus or specific bacterium and create weakened versions of it. When the virus is weakened, it can no longer replicate while in the human body. When given to kids, the virus can work well enough in their body to make them immune to catching the particular virus again, but not enough to make them sick.

But how does the virus get weakened to be a vaccine?

There are a few methods used to weaken or water down a virus or bacterium to turn it into a vaccine.

Every virus has a blueprint (genes), which is the genetic make-up that makes it unique and therefore identifiable.

One method used to weaken it is to destroy the virus blueprint. This method stops it from replicating.  

This is how the “killed” polio vaccine (or polio shot) is made, by treating the polio virus with the chemical formaldehyde explains Kids.Org. The treatment permanently destroys the polio genes so that the virus can no longer replicate. 

The site continues that a second method is to take the toxin that is released from the bacteria, purify it and kill it so it can’t do any harm. Some bacteria cause disease by manufacturing harmful proteins called toxins. Bacteria like diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough) all cause disease by producing toxins. Toxins are purified and killed with chemicals (such as formaldehyde) to make vaccines against these bacteria. Again, because bacterial genes are not part of the vaccine, the bacteria can’t replicate.

Some scientists also change the virus blueprint instead of destroying it. This way, the virus still replicates but poorly. This method is used in vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella.

In this case, the virus blueprint is changed by a technique called cell culture adaptation. Cell culture adaptation is when a virus is adapted to grow in specialised cells grown in the lab instead of the cells it usually grows in.

Certain vaccines only use a part of the virus or bacterium.

 The viral or bacterial genes are not present in vaccines that are created with this method so that the viruses or bacteria can’t replicate. This method is used in the Hib, hepatitis B, and (in part) pertussis vaccines.

What happens after vaccination?

The advantage of live, “weakened” vaccines is that one or two doses provide immunity that is usually life-long. 

Immunity from these weakened vaccines usually lasts a lifetime, with one or two ‘boosters’ along the way. 

This approach has limitations as these vaccines usually cannot be given to people with weakened immune systems (like people with cancer or AIDS), explains Chop Education. Over time, the immune response to certain vaccines may decrease, making a booster necessary, but only as a precaution. 

For example, Tetanus boosters are recommended every 10 years.

In the first year of life, babies are vaccinated against polio, TB, and other infectious diseases, explains The Medical Society. They also receive booster shots for tetanus and receive various other vitamin boosters. Early childhood vaccinations happen intermittently until the age of 12. As unpleasant as the vaccinations may be, they are very necessary.

Certain tricks can help the pain and anxiety that accompany shots for kids. 

Sugar water and paracetamol are both used to help the process. Studies have shown that dipping a dummy in sugar water or putting some sugar water in the baby’s mouth with a syringe can make a procedure less painful. The theory is that it possibly activates the body’s natural systems for fighting pain.

Also, a dose of paracetamol after the vaccine is effective in managing any post-jab symptoms like pain and fever and general restlessness.

The Medical Society

Getting the proper vaccinations for your child can be stressful. As unpleasant as watching children suffer through injections and blood tests can be, know that you are doing what is best for them – and that is what parenting is all about; doing your very best.  The Medical Society will help you achieve this! As a member of The Medical Society, you need not worry about access to safe and hygienic vaccinations.

The Medical Society offers assistance in many facets of a child’s health and development such as child nutrition and growth monitoring, which is the constant checking of the weight and height of your child by age range. This includes comparisons with developmental milestones against age.

We are on hand for advice on child nutrition, including breastfeeding; services that are available at all Medical Society facilities.

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