There’s been a lot of talk lately about the COVID vaccine and we thought it would be a good time to talk about how vaccines work. Our bodies have something called an immune system whose job is to fight bacteria and viruses that cause illnesses. When we are born, our immune systems is already set up to fight all sorts of illnesses by attacking the germs that make us sick. However, there are some that our body is not able to fight, and for these, our immune system has to learn how to fight them. That’s where vaccines help.
Our immune system works by recognizing bacteria and viruses that should not be in our bodies. When they see these invaders, the immune system makes chemicals to kill these germs. Our immune system is pretty smart and can figure out how to help us, but it first needs to “see” the invader. That means we usually have to get sick for our immune system to start learning and that is not good. A vaccine contains a dead or barely alive version of the bacteria or virus we want the immune system to attack. These germs are not bad enough to make us really sick, but our immune system sees them as invaders and figures out how to attack them. If the germs come back and can hurt us, the immune system recognizes this and destroys them.
That’s how vaccines have worked in the past, but the COVID vaccine is different. Stay tuned for next week’s Science Corner to learn how the COVID vaccine works.