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Immunity is the ability of the body to tolerate material that is indigenous to it and eliminate material that is foreign.
The success of the immune system depends on its ability to distinguish between host (self) and foreign (non-self) cells.
The body’s first line of defense against infectious agents, or pathogens, is our skin and mucous membranes.
If a pathogen breaks through these barriers, it encounters a series of nonspecific immune defenses, including specialized cells and chemicals that seek out, identify, and destroy the pathogen, regardless of its identity.
This general response is nearly identical for each pathogen, and even if the body is exposed to the same pathogen many times the response each time is the same (there is no immunologic memory).
If a pathogen evades non-specific defenses, the body mounts a specific acquired immune response tailored to each pathogen.
Acquired immunity is divided into two types based on how it is acquired by the host:
- Active immunity is provided by a person’s own immune system. This type of immunity can come from exposure to a disease or from vaccination. Active immunity usually lasts for many years and often is permanent.
- Passive immunity results when antibodies are transferred from one person or animal to another. The most common form of passive immunity occurs when a fetus receives antibodies from his or her parent across the placenta during pregnancy. Passive immunity disappears over time, usually within weeks or months.
Some childhood vaccinations (e.g., measles) are scheduled so that the vaccine is given at the time when passive immunity from maternal antibodies is waning.
A vaccine is a preparation of a weakened or killed microbe, or portion of it, that when administered, stimulates an immune response against the pathogen but which itself is incapable of causing severe infection.
If the body encounters the real disease-causing pathogen in the future, the immune system will “remember” the pathogen and can respond quickly to launch an immune response to prevent severe illness.
Each vaccine provides immunity against a particular disease; therefore, a series of vaccinations is administered to children and adults to protect them from many vaccine-preventable diseases.
Some vaccines are combined into a single injection. For example, DTP vaccine combines vaccines against three diseases — diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis.
There are three main types of vaccines:
Live attenuated vaccines usually only require one dose to provide life-long immunity, with the exception of oral polio vaccine, which requires multiple doses. Examples include:
- Virus (e.g., oral polio vaccine [OPV], measles, yellow fever)
- Bacteria (e.g., Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine, which prevents TB)
Inactivated vaccine may be whole-cell (made of an entire bacterial or viral cell) or fractional (composed of only part of a cell). Fractional vaccines are either protein- or polysaccharide-based. Examples include:
Virus (e.g., inactivated polio vaccine [IPV])
Bacteria (e.g., whole-cell pertussis)
- Subunit (e.g., acellular pertussis)
- Toxoid (e.g., diphtheria and tetanus)
- Pure (e.g., meningococcal)
- Conjugate (e.g., Haemophilus influenzae type b [Hib])
Pure polysaccharide vaccines are generally NOT effective in children under the age of two UNLESS they are coupled with a protein.
This coupling process is known as conjugation.
Inactivated vaccines are not as effective as live vaccines.
Multiple doses are required for full protection.
And because protection by these vaccines diminishes over time, booster doses are needed to maintain immunity.
Recombinant vaccines are produced by inserting genetic material from a disease-causing organism into a harmless cell, which replicates the proteins of the disease-causing organism. The proteins are then purified and used as vaccine. An example of this is:
- Hepatitis B
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