Pathogens are microbes that cause diseases. Vaccines allow a dead or altered form of the disease causing pathogen to be introduced into the body without causing the disease. The pathogens that are introduced contain a specific antigen. The antigen causes the body's immune system, specifically the lymphocytes, to produce complementary antibodies, which target and attach to the antigen.

How vaccination works

  1. An altered form of a pathogen which cannot cause disease is injected into someone.
  2. This causes lymphocytes to make and then release complementary antibodies to the specific antigen that was injected.
  3. The antibodies attach to and clump the antigens together.
  4. Phagocytes engulf the antigens to remove them from the body.
  5. Some of the lymphocytes remain in the bloodstream as memory cells which can produce the specific antibody for the antigen.
  6. If the body is infected by the real pathogen, the memory cells release antibodies to fight off the pathogen and quickly destroy it.
Pathogens are microbes that cause diseases Vaccines allow a dead or altered form of the disease causing pathogen to be introduced into the body, which contain a specific antigen.

Primary and secondary immune responses

During a primary infection levels of antibodies slowly increase, peak at around ten days and then gradually decrease. This is what happens when someone is vaccinated with a dead or inactive pathogen or when someone catches a disease for the very first time. It is called the primary immune response.

A second exposure to the antigen that was in the vaccine, or to the same pathogen that made the person ill before, causes the white blood cells to respond much more quickly this time. This is the secondary immune response. The antibodies are produced so quickly by the memory cells that the pathogen is killed off before it can make the person ill. This is called being immune to a disease or having immunity.

During primary response, there is an antibody concentration rise over 7 days, dropping to just above zero by 20 days. During secondary phase a sharp rise levels off at a peak after 30 days.