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How do vaccines protect my child?

How do vaccines protect my child?

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As parents, we are naturally concerned about the health and safety of our children. Just walking into a baby store and seeing all the different types of safety products, from child-proof door latches to outlet covers, are evidence of our concerns. One important step in making sure you’re child is protected from sickness is by getting him necessary vaccines.

Sickness and death are still caused by infectious diseases. While not as widespread as half a century ago, they are still a danger. Vaccines protect children by preparing their bodies to fight many potentially deadly diseases.

When your child becomes infected with germs, his body relies on his immune system to fight the invading organism. White blood cells activate and begin making proteins called antibodies that seek out the “intruder” to attack and kill it.

However, by this time, the germs may have already had time to cause a few symptoms. In some cases, the antibody response will be too late to be helpful, and the invading organism can cause a severe or life-threatening infection. Even so, by going on the attack, the immune system and its antibodies can eventually fight off many infections and help your child get well.

The important — and good — part of this whole process is that even after they’ve done their work, these antibodies don’t just disappear! They remain in your child’s blood, always on the lookout for the return of the same invaders.

If these germs do reappear, whether it’s a few weeks or many years later, the antibodies are ready to protect and fight. They can often prevent the infection altogether or stop the infection before the first symptoms appear. That’s why, if you had the measles or mumps as a child, you never got it again, no matter how often you were exposed to the same infectious agent.

So what does all of this have to do with vaccines? Well, the principle is very similar even if the details are somewhat different. Here’s how vaccines use our own immune system to protect us.

A vaccine contains a killed or weakened part of a germ that is responsible for infection. Because the germ has been killed or weakened before it is used to make the vaccine, it cannot make your child sick.

When a child receives a vaccine, the body reacts by making antibodies against the particular germ the vaccine was made from. These “defense” antibodies remain in the body and are ready to fight if the real germ or infectious agent attacks. In other words, vaccines expose people safely to germs, so that they can become protected from a disease but not come down with the actual disease.

Simply put in a nutshell, the vaccine tricks our bodies into thinking they’re under attack by germs, and our immune systems make weapons (antibodies) that will provide a defense when a real infection becomes a threat.

Most of the vaccines your child receives are given by shots. One can be given in a nasal spray (a version of the flu vaccine). But no matter how they are given, the general ideas of all vaccines are the same.

Sometimes one dose of a vaccine is enough to protect a person, but often more than one dose is needed. Some antibodies protect for a lifetime, but others need boosting. For example, measles antibody lasts a lifetime, but antibody to tetanus can fall below a level that protects you, so booster doses are needed.

Some viruses such as the flu can change enough to make the existing antibodies ineffective. That’s why the flu vaccine is needed every year.

Hopefully, this helps you understand how vaccines work to protect your child. And don’t forget to always talk to your child’s pediatrician if you have any questions or concerns.

Posted 12:00 am, October 30, 2012
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