Overview & Benefits of Vaccines
Monday, 22 March 2021
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By Adriana G.
From the worldwide eradication of smallpox in 1980, to the elimination of rubella cases from the Americas in 2015, vaccines have undeniably played a critical role in the improvement of public health and in the way the scientific world perceives medical protocol and disease prevention.
With the COVID-19 pandemic taking an obviously detrimental toll on the everyday lives of the global population, the request for a vaccine has developed into an urgent need for one, and the race to produce it – monitored by the World Health Organization – has led to the emergence of a variety of vaccines, some of which are promising enough to be rolled out for public use.
Before discussing the benefits and history underlying the success of vaccines, below is a small overview of a few COVID-19 vaccines that have been produced/ are under production:
BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE 3 PHASES OF VACCINE DEVELOPMENT
Phase 1: evaluate the vaccine’s safety; determine the appropriate dosage; identify potential
Phase 2: further explore safety + investigate effectiveness in large group
Phase 3: Confirm safety of vaccine using a trial group of thousands of people & test for rare side effects that only show up in a large group of people.
BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF VACCINES
1. Whole Virus Vaccine
a. Live attenuated vaccines inject weakened forms of the virus (can replicate in body cells) to stimulate an immune response (the body detects the virus as a foreign body and develops antibodies to fight it)
i. There is a risk involved in using live attenuated vaccines with the immunocompromised (elderly people, young children, sick individuals) but it can still be very effective at triggering long-term immune response.
b. Inactivated vaccines use viruses whose genetic material (DNA or RNA) was destroyed (they can’t replicate) but can still trigger an immune response.
2. Protein Subunit Vaccine
a. These vaccines use fragments of protein from the virus to trigger an immune response
b. This minimizes the risk of side effects (unlike whole virus vaccines), but the immune response is weaker
c. Thus, these vaccines involve the additional use of adjuvants which serve to boost its effectiveness (triggers the production of more antibodies)
3. Nucleic Acid Vaccines (e.g. mRNA vaccines)
a. These vaccines use genetic material from the virus to provide body cells with the instructions needed to produce the virus’s antigens, which will subsequently trigger an immune response.
b. These vaccines are easy to make & cheap, and since the antigens are produced in our own body, the immune response is quite strong and long-lasting
4. Viral Vector Vaccines:
a. These vaccines also deliver genetic material from the virus to body cells but use a different and harmless virus as a carrier of the genetic material. The same mechanism as with nucleic acid vaccines is involved.
b. They mimic natural viral infection and so trigger a very powerful response. However, a related issue is the possibility that patients have been previously exposed to the virus used as a vector & have developed immunity to it, so the vaccine becomes ineffective.
So, are vaccines beneficial? Should I be vaccinated?
Short answer: YES, YES and YES. It is undeniable that vaccines are 100% effective and have led the fight to eradicate several dangerous diseases, including mumps, measles, polio, and more. Several arguments against vaccines – which have been disproven – include the following:
1. Vaccines cause autism à multiple studies have proven time and time again that vaccines do not cause autism. This is a misconception and unfortunately the ultimate reason for the majority of antivaxxers’ decision to oppose vaccines.
2. It is believed that injecting any part of a virus is unsanitary and unethical: Firstly, the process of purifying vaccines as well as sterilizing the medical equipment used to deliver them (needles, droppers (for oral vaccines)) ensures maximum sanitation during vaccine delivery. Secondly, vaccination creates herd immunity and protects an entire community from a certain disease, and, from an ethics point of view, it is in favour of every individual member of a community to vaccinate. At this point, it may be considered unethical not to be vaccinated, as you put everyone else around at risk of infection.
The way vaccines work is the following: when your white blood cells identify a virus’s antigens (unique identifiers on the surface of viruses) in body cells, T-cells (a type of WBC) will begin to produce specific antibodies to attack it. At the same time, memory cells will be produced in the process, and they serve the function of retaining long-term immunity – in the case that the same virus enters the body later on, the memory cells will “remember it” from the first instance of exposure & the body’s immune system will immediately attack it, thus protecting the body before any symptoms develop. Since vaccines involve either portion of the virus or weakened forms of it, the risk of getting sick from it is extremely low, and in the case that the illness develops, only mild symptoms will show.
So, what exactly are the benefits of vaccines? Here are 5 extremely important advantages of getting vaccinated.
1. Protects individuals from life-threatening diseases (and are also part of the reason for which the average human lifespan is longer)
a. Polio, for instance, was one of the leading causes of death and paralysis in children in the United States, but today, after the introduction of the vaccine in 1955, there are no reported cases of the disease.
b. There are two ways to become immunized to a certain viral disease: the first is to actually contract the virus, and the second is to be vaccinated with a portion or a weakened version of it. While the former does not guarantee recovery and may lead to long-term consequences, the latter triggers an immune response without the individual suffering from the disease’s symptoms, while still being protected from the disease for life.
2. Prevents the spread of disease to other people:
a. Certain immunocompromised individuals (newborns, HIV/ AIDS patients, leukaemia patients, the elderly, etc.) are too weak to successfully receive immunization by vaccination. In other words, they do not have the physical capacity to protect themselvesfrom preventable viral diseases. However, if you and other people who visit/ care for those immunocompromised individuals get vaccinated, you are playing a role in preventing the spread of the disease to them.
3. Vaccinations save time and money.
a. For starters, it would be much cheaper to vaccinate and prevent the development of a disease than to treat it. Hospital bills are, for the most part, unaffordable without insurance, and still some families are unable to cover the cost of medical care and hospitalization. This reaffirms the economic advantages of vaccination, as you would be avoiding the situation of having to pay hefty medical bills post-treatment.
b. From another perspective, some vaccine-preventable diseases result in life-long disabilities which lead to lost time at work, and, in addition to life-long medical care and other medical bills, this costs a lot of money which would otherwise not have been lost had the body been protected from acquiring the disease in the first place.
4. Protects unborn children
a. If a woman contracts a virus while pregnant, there exists the risk of her passing the virus down to her unborn child, and unfortunately this leads to the formation of virus-related birth defects including microcephaly (having a shorter-than-normal head), brain abnormalities, hypoxia (oxygen deficiency), hypoglycaemia, and several more. By being vaccinated in the first place, her baby will not risk contracting any harmful viruses before leaving the womb.
5. May lead to the eradication of certain diseases
a. In the case that an entire population (or even just 90%) is vaccinated against a certain viral disease, the ability of the virus to spread from individual to individual becomes near impossible. By limiting the spread of the virus and protecting the majority (or all) of a population, a disease can be totally eliminated in that community.
Now, the next question to be answered would be the following: in the case that a COVID-19 vaccine – which has passed all 3 phases – emerges, should I get it?
Simple answer: Yes, you should – not only for your personal benefit, but out of consideration of a greater cause – the protection of your community. Many argue that the reliability and validity of the vaccines are questionable due to the short time taken to develop them. However, one must acknowledge the vast technological advancements which have taken place since Edward Jenner first discovered vaccinations in 1796. The techniques to create vaccines have been developed over centuries, and a heightened understanding of how viruses work facilitated the process of isolating the material needed from the coronavirus to develop a vaccine against it.
Nonetheless, we know that the vaccines we get at our doctor’s appointment today have been tested over and over again over a number of years (and with obvious success, otherwise they wouldn’t be given to us). The race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine has only begun in around March 2020, the virus is a totally new one to us, and too many claims of “approved” vaccines have been raised with no evidence whatsoever. It’s also difficult to predict the long-term effectiveness of the vaccine, since that requires years of public health surveillance, which the world is yet to conduct. We are currently living in a state of total uncertainty, and the sudden emergence of such a great number of vaccines in such little time is bound to raise some eyebrows. Nonetheless, we should trust the science and the researchers (whom we should thank as well) who have been working extremely hard to find a vaccine to overcome the pandemic since early 2020. At this point in time, we must be patient, and hope that the world’s pharmaceutical companies hold our best interests at heart and that they complete their job with utmost transparency and care.
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Healthline, Healthline, 15 Sept. 2017, www.healthline.com/health/vaccinations/opposition.
“The COVID-19 Vaccine Race.” Gavi , Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, 2 Dec.
“Five Important Reasons to Vaccinate Your Child.” Vaccines.gov, Jan. 2018,
Saleh, Naveed. “5 Infections That Lead to Birth Defects.” Verywellfamily, Very Well Family,
18 May 2020, www.verywellfamily.com/infections-that-cause-birth-defects-4140389.
“There Are Four Types of COVID-19 Vaccines: Here’s How They Work.” Gavi , Global Alliance
for Vaccines and Immunisation, Oct. 2020, www.gavi.org/vaccineswork/there-are-fourtypes-covid-19-vaccines-heres-how-they-work.