What are vacccines?
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What are Vaccinations?

Vaccines are a vital part of global health. As such, they prevent highly contagious or severe diseases from affecting us. Also, immunization is often part of humanitarian aid activities, as not everyone has access to necessary vaccinations. So let’s talk about what are vaccines and how they are part of the global health strategy.

How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine is an engineered solution that allows your immune system to protect you from a given disease. They usually are injected via a syringe and contain some version of the weakened germ or part of it. As a result, by familiarizing itself with the virus, your body develops an immune response to it, without actually having to have the disease.

Sometimes, people with long-term health issues or with weakened immune systems are not allowed to receive vaccines. However, herd immunity can solve this problem. Herd immunity means that a sufficient percentage of the population is resistant to disease. Depending on the disease, between 83-94% of the population must have received the vaccine for this to happen.

Most medicines treat or cure diseases. But vaccines prevent them altogether. Most of us had had the necessary vaccines when we were children. Humanitarians and other travelers often also receive additional vaccines when they get older.

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The history of vaccines

People started to think about vaccines or disease prevention as far back as 1000 CE. There is evidence that the Chinese were trying to prevent smallpox, a prevention method that spread to Africa, Turkey, and Europe.

But in 1797, Edward Jenner developed the first vaccine as we know them today, one to prevent smallpox. Thanks to extensive vaccination efforts and iterations of the vaccine, smallpox was declared eradicated in 1980.

Over the past century, scientists have developed a wide range of vaccines, including polio, measles, yellow fever, hepatitis, and many others. Today, with more advanced technologies, the research continues to prevent and eradicate diseases around the world.

Different types of vaccines

The are four main types of vaccinations, each using a different strategy to create immunity.

Live-attenuated vaccines

Live vaccines use a weakened germ to simulate the disease in your body. This way, the body develops a durable, long-lasting immunity to the disease. Usually, these vaccines cover yours over your lifetime. Some examples include the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella) and yellow fever.

Inactivated vaccines

An alternative to live-attenuated vaccines are inactivated vaccines. In other words, these use a killed version of the germ, so they do not provide as strong of an immunity. This means booster shots are usually necessary for inactivated vaccines. Examples include the Hepatitis A vaccine and the flu shot.

Subunit, recombinant, polysaccharide, and conjugate vaccines

Yes, we know, its complicated name. It means that the germs are part of the vaccine. Therefore your immune system knows to protect you from it. The downside with this kind is that it’s too risky to administer to those with weakened immune systems. Examples include Hepatitis B and Whooping Cough.

Toxoid vaccines

Finally, toxoid vaccines use a harmful product produced by the germ as the base for the vaccine. This means that your body responds to the causes of the disease and not the virus itself. Examples include Diphtheria and Tetanus shots.  

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Vaccines and global health

Every year, vaccination prevents 2 to 3 million deaths. Consequently, this has an incredible impact on the state of global health today. There are 26 vaccine-preventable diseases. So immunization helps to prevent them and reduce the burden on healthcare systems around the world.

However, 1 out of 10 children in the world never gets any vaccines. Many children and adults do not have access to proper healthcare. As such, they are exposed to easily preventable diseases. For this reason, many humanitarian aid organizations work on immunization campaigns around the world.

Vaccines can help to prevent large-scale disease outbreaks and even eradicate certain illnesses, such as smallpox. But this can only happen if the world develops her immunity. This means that alongside humanitarians, we need to push the global health and vaccination agenda forward.

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