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How do Vaccines Work?

Learn more about how vaccines work and how they contribute to a healthier world.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are vaccines?

    In order to understand how vaccines work, it is important to first understand what vaccines are. So what are vaccines? Vaccines protect us from catching a disease by tricking the body into thinking that the vaccine particles are the real bug (virus/bacterium). The vaccine does not cause the disease but the body reacts to it as if the disease was real.

  • What are vaccines made of?

    Vaccines are usually made from live attenuated (weakened) or inactivated (killed) forms of the microbe, its toxins or surface particles. These forms don't cause the disease but work to stimulate the production of antibodies in the body. It takes the body around two weeks to develop the antibody response which gives the immunity.

  • What is vaccination?

    Vaccination and immunisation are used interchangeably but they have different meanings. Vaccination is simply the administration of a vaccine.

  • What is immunisation?

    So now you know what vaccines are. How do they work? After the vaccination, the human body has a clever system to keep a record of the "offender" in special cells called memory cells. These memory cells behave like secret agents by making sure that the same invader will be neutralised with antibodies if it is encountered again. When this process is complete, the vaccinated person is immunised. An immunised person will be able to avoid catching the disease and therefore will stop the spread to other people.

    The next important step to get rid of the disease in the community is to ensure that at least 95% of people are vaccinated - this is called 'herd immunity'.

  • What is herd immunity?

    Herd immunity is an important step to get rid of a disease in the community. It involves ensuring that at least 95% of people are vaccinated. Find out more about herd immunity or watch the video Link to external website by Bozeman Science for an easy explanation.

Videos on Vaccines

If you're interested in learning more about vaccines and how they work, see the following videos:

Click to play video Bill Gates: Vaccines Save Lives

Bill Gates: Vaccines Save Lives

Bill Gates discusses his views on vaccines and their lifesaving ability, using smallpox and polio as examples

Search the Gates Foundation Link to external website website for further information.

Click to play video How Vaccines Work: The Complete History of Vaccines

How Vaccines Work: The Complete History of Vaccines

See an overview of the history of vaccines, and find out how vaccines stimulate an immune response.

Credit: Carrington College

Click to play video Immunity and Vaccines Explained

Immunity and Vaccines Explained

Learn more about how vaccines work to stimulate our immune system to keep us from getting sick.

Credit: Nova

The Chain of Protection

Professor Robert Booy explains the importance of immunisation and vaccination, and hear real life stories of the impact infectious diseases has had on families.

Search The Chain of Protection Open external site link in new window website for more videos and information on vaccines and vaccination.

Click to play video Vaccines and Herd Immunity

Vaccines and Herd Immunity

Paul Andersen explains how immune individuals in a population give the entire group herd immunity. Concepts of immunity, vaccines, basic reproduction number, and herd immunity threshold are discussed.

Search the Bozeman Science Link to external website website for more information on vaccines and vaccination.

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