We hear a lot about the vaccine for COVID-19, and researchers race to create it. But how do they work and what kinds of viruses do they use?
How Do They Work?
If you contract a virus, your body will produce antibodies to that molecule so that if you get exposed again you’ll have some degree of immunity. That immunity is great, but you still have to get sick with the virus, and recover, to get that protection.
On the other hand, vaccines work by getting your body to produce the immune response without having you contract the disease to get it. Two strategies are used to do this: live vaccines and inactivated vaccines.
Live vaccines use a weakened form of the virus, with a low risk of causing the disease itself. This strategy is used for measles, mumps, rubella, smallpox and chickenpox. Because they work with live virus, this requires extensive safety testing.
Deactivated vaccines are dead versions of the virus which do not cause infection. This strategy is used in the case of conditions such as the flu, hepatitis A and rabies. The downside is that their protective effect can be quite low compared to live vaccines, requiring multiple doses and booster shots later on.
In either case, these strategies can provide your body with the immune response that can keep it resistant over time.
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