Why Should I Get a Vaccination?

The world around us is rich in pathogens, micro-organisms that can cause a variety of different illnesses and conditions by disrupting the normal workings of our body. Fortunately we are born equipped with a series of defensive mechanisms referred to as the immune system which protects us from most of the pathogens we encounter on a day to day basis.

 Our immune systems are invaluable and extremely effective, however there are times when our natural immunity alone isn’t enough to protect us from particularly harmful pathogens. This is where protective measures like vaccinations can be invaluable, and in this article we look at why we sometimes need the help of vaccines to stay healthy.

Why are some diseases too much for our natural defences?

Our immune system is extremely effective, and has refined itself over countless generations to effectively ‘learn’ how to deal with invading pathogens. Every time we are exposed to a pathogen, our body goes through a series of different responses against it, including the production of specific immune cells and molecules that work against that pathogen.

Every pathogen is unique and so to work against it our immune system needs an arsenal of cells and molecules that can act against that specific pathogen. Considering how many potential pathogens we encounter every day, if we were to have immune cells against all of them constantly in our blood we wouldn’t have room for anything else in there! Fortunately our immune system has devised a clever way around this obstacle.

What happens is that when you are first exposed to a pathogen, your body learns how to produce cells and specific molecules called antibodies against it. These work to get rid of the infection and restore your health. Once the infection has been cleared, most of these cells and antibodies are removed, however a small number remain behind, and these are referred to as ‘memory’ cells. These memory cells wait until that infection returns, and if it does, your body instantly produces all the antibodies and cells it knows will work against that infection, thereby preventing its recurrence.

This mechanism is very effective and allows your immune system to make good use of its resources. However, it does sometimes take time to develop a strong immune reaction to an infection you encounter for the first time. In most cases this isn’t an issue, you may develop some symptoms as your body fights off the pathogen in question, but that tends to be it. In others however, the infectious agent can be particularly aggressive and cause severe illness, and these are the type of infections which vaccinations can protect against.

Examples of diseases which can be dangerous without the protection that vaccination confers include the flu, polio, the mumps, measles, rubella, and some forms of meningitis.

What does the vaccine do that our immune system can’t?

As mentioned in the previous section, after being exposed to a pathogen for the first time, our bodies need an adjustment period during which a defensive response is prepared. After this first contact, the immune system is effectively primed to deal with that infection again in the future. A vaccination is very much like a primer for the immune system, it stimulates an initial immune response by introducing a weakened pathogen or parts of that pathogen, which gives your body the chance to become familiar with the infection without any risk of serious illness.

Because of this any encounters with the real pathogen are much less dangerous as your body can rapidly react to the infection and prevent serious illness.

Vaccines are especially useful for groups with immune systems that are less efficient, children and the elderly for example. In these cases vaccinations are often life-saving as they prevent the onset of many conditions which can prove fatal in certain age groups and not for adults.

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