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As proud COVID Community Champions, Wolverhampton GP, Dr Amanda will be providing a regular guest blogpost on the ACCI website to educate the local community about COVID-19 and the vaccine.

Dr Amanda Chisholm

WHY DO WE NEED VACCINES?

December 2020 saw the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination across the world begin, we have seen a variety of vaccinations come to the general public and over 45 million vaccines have been administered in the UK to date. As time rolls on more and more information around the vaccine has been acquired, and with this confidence has grown along with uptake. In addition to this however many people do still need questions addressing to aid in coming to an informed decision regarding the vaccines and their own personal decision. This is the first of a series of articles here to give that additional insight. A good place to start is more about vaccinations in general, how they work, and their history.

THE BODIES DEFENCE AGAINST INFECTION

Pathogens are tiny organisms that live all around us and on us, they include bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi, some are harmless to us but many others can cause disease and illness if allowed to enter the body of a susceptible person. Each pathogen is made up of different parts some of which are unique to a specific pathogen and are called antigens.

Our body however has systems in place to prevent illness from occurring. The first system is a one of defence- physical barriers to stop the pathogens from getting in, these include skin, mucus, and cilia (microscopic hairs that trap the pathogens). If the pathogen is able to overcome these physical barriers the next system is one of attack aiming to destroy the pathogen- the immune system. The immune system is made up of a network of different cells and proteins, an integral protein are antibodies.

Antibodies are the soldiers of the immune system, trained to recognise specific antigens and lead the attack against the pathogen. Our body has thousands of different ones, and once an antibody has been created memory cells are also formed so when exposed to the same pathogen again antibodies can be formed very quickly. The first time the body is exposed to an antigen it takes the body time for the immune system to respond and produce antigens, during that time the person can become ill.

If both these systems fail to prevent illness additional support is often needed to help fight the illness and this may be in the form of medications like antibiotics, antivirals and antifungals.

The use of vaccines however means the immune system can be assisted, reducing the chances even further of illness occurring.

HOW DO VACCINES WORK

Vaccines contain weakened or inactivated parts- antigens- of a certain pathogen (usually one that causes serious illness or death). Newer vaccines now contain the blueprint to produce the antigen rather than the antigen itself. As it only contains a small portion that is either weakened or inactive it cannot cause disease, but what it does do is spark an immune response within the body as if the body had been introduced to the pathogen itself. This response leads to the production of antibodies and memory cells, so if the actual pathogen makes contact with the person in the future the body is ready to quickly attack. Some vaccines need multiple doses to allow for long-lived antibodies and memory cells.

Very few things in life are 100% guaranteed and vaccines are no exception to that, however, having a vaccine makes it very likely that the individual will be protected against serious illness.

Unfortunately, not everyone can or will be vaccinated and this will be for a variety of reasons including severe allergies to ingredients in the vaccine, certain health conditions and personal choice. These individuals can be protected however if enough people that they come into regular contact within their community are vaccinated, as this stops the disease from circulating in that community. This is known as herd immunity but it needs a community effort, the percentage of a community that needs to be vaccinated varies between diseases, but for example measles required 95% vaccinated whereas polio was 80%. These examples prove that vaccinations do work and can eradicate disease, polio was a devastating disease causing death and paralysis worldwide, it was eradicated in the majority of the world in the 1950’s. Some areas however still experienced the disease, this included, in particular, the continent of Africa, but following a worldwide effort and years of consistent vaccinations polio now does not exist in Africa.

In the following articles, I will discuss more specific aspects of the COVID- 19 vaccine itself, hopefully, we too can achieve the same eradication of the COVID- 19 virus.

For information about Dr Amanda Chisolm, Wolverhampton GP, MBChB MRCGP:

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