AskDefine | Define vaccine

Dictionary Definition

vaccine n : immunogen consisting of a suspension of weakened or dead pathogenic cells injected in order to stimulate the production of antibodies [syn: vaccinum]

User Contributed Dictionary



vaccinus, from vacca (because of early use of the cowpox virus against smallpox).


  1. A substance given to stimulate the body's production of antibodies and provide immunity against a disease, prepared from the agent that causes the disease, or a synthetic substitute.


substance that stimulates production of antibodies
  • Chinese: 疫苗
  • Czech: očkovací látka, vakcína
  • French: vaccin
  • German: Impfstoff
  • Japanese: ワクチン, 疫苗
  • Portuguese: vacina
  • Spanish: vacuna
  • Turkish: Aşı



  1. Form of First-person singular present subjunctive, vacciner
  2. Form of Third-person singular present subjunctive, vacciner
  3. Form of Second-person singular imperative, vacciner



Extensive Definition

A vaccine is a preparation which is used to improve immunity to a particular disease. The term derives from Edward Jenner's use of cowpox ("vacca" means cow in Latin), which, when administered to humans, provided them protection against smallpox, the work which Louis Pasteur and others carried on. Vaccines are based on the concept of variolation originating in China, in which a person is deliberately infected with a weak form of smallpox. Jenner realized that milkmaids who had contact with cowpox did not get smallpox. The process of distributing and administrating vaccines is referred to as vaccination. Since vaccination was much safer, smallpox inoculation fell into disuse and was eventually banned in England in 1849.
Vaccines can be prophylactic (e.g. to prevent or ameliorate the effects of a future infection by any natural or "wild" pathogen), or therapeutic (e.g. vaccines against cancer are also being investigated; see cancer vaccine).


Vaccines may be dead or inactivated organisms or purified products derived from them.
There are four types of traditional vaccines,1510,4866,00.html:
  • Vaccines containing killed microorganisms - these are previously virulent micro-organisms that have been killed with chemicals or heat. Examples are vaccines against flu, cholera, bubonic plague, and hepatitis A.
  • Vaccines containing live, attenuated virus microorganisms - these are live micro-organisms that have been cultivated under conditions that disable their virulent properties or which use closely-related but less dangerous organisms to produce a broad immune response. They typically provoke more durable immunological responses and are the preferred type for healthy adults. Examples include yellow fever, measles, rubella, and mumps. The live tuberculosis vaccine is not the contagious strain, but a related strain called "BCG"; it is used in the United States very infrequently.
  • Toxoids - these are inactivated toxic compounds in cases where these (rather than the micro-organism itself) cause illness. Examples of toxoid-based vaccines include tetanus and diphtheria. Not all toxoids are for micro-organisms; for example, Crotalis atrox toxoid is used to vaccinate dogs against rattlesnake bites.
  • Subunit - rather than introducing an inactivated or attenuated micro-organism to an immune system (which would constitute a "whole-agent" vaccine), a fragment of it can create an immune response. Characteristic examples include the subunit vaccine against HBV that is composed of only the surface proteins of the virus (produced in yeast) and the virus-like particle (VLP) vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) that is composed of the viral major capsid protein.
A number of innovative vaccines are also in development and in use:
  • Conjugate - certain bacteria have polysaccharide outer coats that are poorly immunogenic. By linking these outer coats to proteins (e.g. toxins), the immune system can be led to recognize the polysaccharide as if it were a protein antigen. This approach is used in the Haemophilus influenzae type B vaccine.
  • Recombinant Vector - by combining the physiology of one micro-organism and the DNA of the other, immunity can be created against diseases that have complex infection processes
  • DNA vaccination - in recent years a new type of vaccine, created from an infectious agent's DNA called DNA vaccination, has been developed. It works by insertion (and expression, triggering immune system recognition) into human or animal cells, of viral or bacterial DNA. Some cells of the immune system that recognize the proteins expressed will mount an attack against these proteins and cells expressing them. Because these cells live for a very long time, if the pathogen that normally expresses these proteins is encountered at a later time, they will be attacked instantly by the immune system. One advantage of DNA vaccines is that they are very easy to produce and store. As of 2006, DNA vaccination is still experimental.
Note that while most vaccines are created using inactivated or attenuated compounds from micro-organisms, synthetic vaccines are composed mainly or wholly of synthetic peptides, carbohydrates or antigens.

Developing immunity

The immune system recognizes vaccine agents as foreign, destroys them, and 'remembers' them. When the virulent version of an agent comes along the body recognises the protein coat on the virus, and thus is prepared to respond, by (1) neutralizing the target agent before it can enter cells, and (2) by recognizing and destroying infected cells before that agent can multiply to vast numbers.
Vaccines have contributed to the eradication of smallpox, one of the most contagious and deadly diseases known to man. Other diseases such as rubella, polio, measles, mumps, chickenpox, and typhoid are nowhere near as common as they were just a hundred years ago. As long as the vast majority of people are vaccinated, it is much more difficult for an outbreak of disease to occur, let alone spread. This effect is called herd immunity. Polio, which is transmitted only between humans, is targeted by an extensive eradication campaign that has seen endemic polio restricted to only parts of four countries. The difficulty of reaching all children as well as cultural misunderstandings, however, have caused the eradication date to be missed several times.


See also: Vaccination policy
In order to provide best protection, children are recommended to receive vaccinations as soon as their immune systems are sufficiently developed to respond to particular vaccines, with additional 'booster' shots often required to achieve 'full immunity'. This has led to the development of complex vaccination schedules. In the United States, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which recommends schedule additions for the Center for Disease Control, recommends routine vaccination of children against: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, polio, mumps, measles, rubella, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, HiB, chicken pox, rotavirus, influenza, meningococcal disease and pneumonia. The large number of vaccines and boosters recommended (up to 24 injections by age two) has led to problems with achieving full compliance. In order to combat declining compliance rates, various notification systems have been instituted and a number of combination injections are now marketed (e.g., Prevnar and ProQuad vaccines), which provide protection against multiple diseases.
Besides recommendations for infant vaccinations and boosters, many specific vaccines are recommended at other ages or for repeated injections throughout life -- most commonly for measles, tetanus, influenza, and pneumonia. Pregnant women are often screened for continued resistance to rubella. The human papillomavirus vaccine is currently recommended in the U.S. and UK for ages 9–25. Vaccine recommendations for the elderly concentrate on pneumonia and influenza, which are more deadly to that group. In 2006, a vaccine was introduced against shingles, a disease caused by the chicken pox virus, which usually affects the elderly.
In Australia, a massive increase in vaccination rates was observed when the federal government made certain benefits (such as the universal 'Family Allowance' welfare payments for parents of children) dependent on vaccination. As well, children were not allowed into school unless they were either vaccinated or their parents completed a statutory declaration refusing to immunize them, after discussion with a doctor, and other bureaucracy. (Similar school-entry vaccination regulations have been in place in some parts of Canada for several years.) It became easier and cheaper to vaccinate one's children than not to. When faced with the annoyance, many more casual objectors simply gave in.


Vaccines do not guarantee complete protection from a disease. Sometimes this is because the host's immune system simply doesn't respond adequately or at all. This may be due to a lowered immunity in general (diabetes, steroid use, HIV infection) or because the host's immune system does not have a B-cell capable of generating antibodies to that antigen.
Even if the host develops antibodies, the human immune system is not perfect and in any case the immune system might still not be able to defeat the infection.
Adjuvants are typically used to boost immune response. Adjuvants are sometimes called the dirty little secret of vaccines in the scientific community, as not much is known about how adjuvants work. Most often aluminium adjuvants are used, but adjuvants like squalene are also used in some vaccines and more vaccines with squalene and phosphate adjuvants are being tested. The efficacy or performance of the vaccine is dependent on a number of factors:
  • the disease itself (for some diseases vaccination performs better than for other diseases)
  • the strain of vaccine (some vaccinations are for different strains of the disease)
  • whether one kept to the timetable for the vaccinations (see Vaccination schedule)
  • some individuals are 'non-responders' to certain vaccines, meaning that they do not generate antibodies even after being vaccinated correctly
  • other factors such as ethnicity or genetic predisposition
When a vaccinated individual does develop the disease vaccinated against, the disease is likely to be milder than without vaccination.
The following are important considerations in the effectiveness of a vaccination program:
  1. careful modelling to anticipate the impact that an immunisation campaign will have on the epidemiology of the disease in the medium to long term
  2. ongoing surveillance for the relevant disease following introduction of a new vaccine and
  3. maintaining high immunisation rates, even when a disease has become rare.

Vaccine developments

Rational attenuation

Specific modifications or deletions of genes that confer virulence removes the pathogenicity of the microbe whilst still allowing an immune response to be generated. This type of rational attenuation can be viewed as creating a live, attenuated vaccine.

Vector-mediated subunit delivery

Introducing a non-infectious, non-pathogenic subunit into a live vector can prompt an immune response without presence of the pathogen. For example, rabies surface protein gene has been inserted into vaccinia virus.

Virus-like particles

Capsid proteins of icosohedral viruses assemble without the prescence of a genome. They are antigenically authentic, but non-infectious. This has been used for HPV-16 and HPV-18.


Opposition to vaccination, from a wide array of vaccine critics, has existed since the earliest vaccination campaigns. Disputes have arisen over the morality, ethics, effectiveness, and safety of vaccination. The mainstream medical opinion is that the benefits of preventing suffering and death from serious infectious diseases greatly outweigh the risks of rare adverse effects following immunization. Some vaccination critics say that vaccines are ineffective against disease or that vaccine safety studies are inadequate. and some political groups oppose mandatory vaccination on the grounds of individual liberty.


Many vaccines need preservatives to prevent serious adverse effects such as the Staphylococcus infection that in one 1928 incident killed 12 of 21 children inoculated with a diphtheria vaccine that lacked a preservative. Several preservatives are available, including thiomersal, 2-phenoxyethanol, and formaldehyde. Thiomersal is more effective against bacteria, has better shelf life, and improves vaccine stability, potency, and safety, but in the U.S., the European Union, and a few other affluent countries, it is no longer used as a preservative in childhood vaccines, as a precautionary measure due to its mercury content. Controversial claims have been made that thiomersal contributes to autism; no convincing scientific evidence supports these claims.

Delivery systems

There are several new delivery systems in development, which will hopefully make vaccines more efficient to deliver. Possible methods include liposomes and ISCOM (immune stimulating complex).


The use of plasmids has been validated in preclinical studies as a protective vaccine strategy for cancer and infectious diseases. However, the crossover application into human studies has been met with poor results based on the inability to provide clinically relevant benefit. The overall efficacy of plasmid DNA immunization depends on increasing the plasmid's immunogenicity while also correcting for factors involved in the specific activation of immune effector cells.

Use in nonhumans

Vaccinations of animals are used both to prevent their contracting diseases and to prevent transmission of disease to humans. Both animals kept as pets and animals raised as stock are vaccinated. In some instances, wild populations may be vaccinated. This is sometimes accomplished with vaccine-laced food spread in a disease-prone area and has been used to attempt to control rabies in raccoons.
Where rabies occurs, rabies vaccination of dogs may be required by law. Other canine vaccines include canine distemper, canine parvovirus, canine hepatitis virus, adenovirus-2, leptospirosis, bordatella, canine parainfluenza virus, and Lyme disease among others.

See also


External links

  • VIOLIN: Vaccine Investigation and Online Information Network
vaccine in Arabic: تطعيم
vaccine in Catalan: Vacuna
vaccine in Czech: Vakcína
vaccine in Danish: Vaccination
vaccine in German: Impfstoff
vaccine in Spanish: Vacuna
vaccine in Esperanto: Vakcino
vaccine in Persian: واکسن
vaccine in Friulian: Vacine
vaccine in Korean: 백신
vaccine in Indonesian: Vaksin
vaccine in Italian: Vaccino
vaccine in Hebrew: חיסון
vaccine in Dutch: Vaccin
vaccine in Japanese: ワクチン
vaccine in Norwegian: Vaksine
vaccine in Norwegian Nynorsk: Vaksine
vaccine in Polish: Szczepionka
vaccine in Portuguese: Vacina
vaccine in Romanian: Vaccin
vaccine in Russian: Вакцина
vaccine in Slovak: Očkovanie
vaccine in Slovenian: Cepivo
vaccine in Finnish: Rokotus
vaccine in Telugu: టీకా
vaccine in Thai: วัคซีน
vaccine in Vietnamese: Vắc-xin
vaccine in Ukrainian: Вакцина
vaccine in Chinese: 疫苗

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

A, B, T, antitoxin, autogenous vaccine, bang, booster, booster shot, bovine vaccine, fix, hit, humanized vaccine, hypodermic, hypodermic injection, injection, inoculation, jet injection, mainlining, narcotic injection, shooting up, shot, skin-popping, stock vaccine, toxoid, univalent vaccine, vaccination
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