How Do Vaccines Work: A Quick Guide to Child Vaccinations

November 11, 2022 by Kid Care Pediatrics

Smallpox used to be a devastating disease—it killed up to 300 million people back in the 20th century. In fact, it was so deadly, that it was often compared to the Black Plague. These days, smallpox is virtually unheard of, so what changed?

The answer: vaccines. 

Many experts agree that vaccines are one of the greatest medical advancements that humans have made. Yet even vaccines are not immune to controversy. The result being that many parents have questions about whether vaccines are safe for their children and what the possible side effects are.

Want to learn more about child vaccinations? If so, you’re in the right place. We’ll be going over everything that you need to know about the topic below.

Keep reading to learn more!


What Are Vaccines?

A vaccine is a biological substance that’s introduced to the body in order to provoke an immune response. This may sound threatening, but vaccines are designed to protect people against deadly diseases.

Generally speaking, there are four types of vaccine.

Inactivated vaccines use a killed version of a germ (such as Hepatitis A, rabies, and polio). The most common inactivated vaccine is the flu vaccine. Live virus vaccines use a weakened form of a germ (such as the MMR or chickenpox vaccine). 

Other vaccines use a portion of a germ—the protein or sugars, for example—and are often used to protect people from shingles, whooping cough, or HPV. These vaccines are called subunit, recombinant, polysaccharide, and conjugate vaccines, depending on the part of the germ they contain.

Toxoid vaccines don’t use the germ itself; rather, they introduce the toxin produced by the germ. Thus, your body’s immune system responds to the toxin rather than to the particular germ causing the disease. Tetanus shots are one of the most common toxoid vaccines.

A researcher wearing a glove while holding a petri dish.


How Do Vaccines Work?

Though there are multiple types of vaccines, they all have the same goal: to teach your body to fight off viruses, bacteria, and other germs.

When your immune system encounters a germ, it takes several days for your white blood cells to fight the disease while you experience all of the unpleasant symptoms that accompany an illness. After you have recovered, your body will produce antibodies to fight the disease so that you don’t become ill the next time you are exposed to it. 

Vaccines are designed to imitate an infection without causing illness. By encountering a weakened, dead, or portion of a germ, your body will still produce the type of white blood cells needed to fight the disease and stay healthy in the future.


A medical professional giving a patient a vaccine shot.

Why Child Vaccinations Are Important 

When a baby is born, they don’t have experience with anything yet. Their tiny bodies have to learn to walk, talk, move, and yes, fight off infections. 

Not only are their immune systems not fully developed, but their bodies are also a lot weaker than ours. This means that if they do contract a serious illness, they may not be able to fight if off as easily as an adult would.

By relying on vaccines—rather than natural disease—to develop immunity, parents can prevent their child from suffering from the many frightening symptoms that plagued children in the past.


Are Vaccines Safe?

Before they’re even given out to the public, vaccines must be rigorously tested through clinical trials and these trials must be overseen and approved (or denied) by the Food and Drug Administration. This process can take several years.

Once the vaccine has been released to the public, it is still monitored for potentially harmful side effects that may not have been discovered during clinical trials. The FDA will not allow any vaccine to remain in use if the risks appear to outweigh the benefits.

Furthermore, vaccine manufacturers must adhere to rigorous standards. The FDA conducts regular inspections of the facilities and each batch of a vaccine must be released by the FDA before it can be distributed. 

Finally, the immunization schedule for children is also determined by careful research and testing.

Like any medicine, vaccines can cause side effects such as pain and redness at the injection site. In some cases, they can also cause mild fever. (If the fever occurs in a newborn, be sure to call your pediatrician for guidance). These reactions are mild and extremely rare.

Overall, the side effects of vaccines are not nearly as harmful as the illness itself. Vaccines are safe, and choosing not to get a vaccine is much more risky.


A researcher using a microscope.

Do Vaccines Work?

Childhood vaccines are highly effective—not only for your child, but for society as a whole. 

For example, two doses of the chickenpox vaccine are over 90 percent effective at preventing the disease. This gives your child only a 10% of catching chickenpox in the event they are directly exposed to it. And even if they do contract that itchy rash, their symptoms will likely be much milder than if they hadn’t gotten the vaccine.

Secondly, vaccines work well because of “herd immunity.” The more people that become immune to a disease, the greater the odds that everyone else stays protected. Certain individuals may be too young or too immuno-compromised to have certain vaccines. But if everyone they come in contact with is immune to these illnesses, they will never be exposed to them.

For maximum protection, it’s highly recommended that you follow the CDC’s immunization schedule for children. 


Get More Vaccine Information from Kid Care Pediatrics

A lot of science and research has gone into the development of the vaccines on the market today, and all of it was designed to keep you and your family safe.

By instigating an immune response, vaccines strengthen the body’s natural immune system, enhancing your ability and fight and protect yourself from diseases. Given that, there’s really no reason not to vaccinate your child!

If you have any questions about how your child’s immune system will react to vaccines, speak to their pediatrician. And if you’re still looking for a pediatrician, schedule an appointment with one of our friendly doctors.

Kid Care Pediatrics

Kid Care Pediatrics has been in existence since October 2001. It was established by Omar A. Gomez, M.D. The practice philosophy at Kid Care Pediatrics is to provide quality pediatric medical care for children in a professional yet caring manner.

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