Decisions regarding healthcare choices are deeply personal and deserve to be respected. This article is poised to stand as a starting point for a robust personal research strategy which evaluates the evidence available.

History of Immunology Science

Human experimentation with immunology dates back centuries in the east. There is recorded evidence of Buddhist monks attempting to create snake anti-venom in the 17th century. In the west, the accepted grandfather of vaccinology is Edward Jenner who performed the first ‘inoculation’ in 1796 in the fight against smallpox. Louis Pasteur and Robert Kock’s ground-breaking research linking micro-organisms and disease in the early 1800’s formed the foundation for further work on how immunity is achieved. In 1881 Pasteur worked on immunizations for anthrax and in 1884 for rabies. The role of antibodies and passive immunity was discovered by Emil von Behring in 1890 who was awarded a Nobel Prize for his work. In 1908 another Nobel Prize delivered to Élie Metchnikoff and Paul Ehrlich for immunology research exploring how pathogens and hosts interact i.e. infection and disease. From these milestones the fields of immunology and vaccinology have since accelerated with significant advances!


Definitions Worth Noting:

The role and purpose of the Immune System is to discover, identify, react, and neutralize threats to the body.

· Pathogens: Micro-organisms linked with disease; such as bacteria, fungi, parasites, or viruses.
· Antigen: Substance or part of a pathogen which triggers immune system response.
· Antibody: Specific type of cell produced by the body to bind with antigens, as part of the Immune System defensive response.
· Immune System: A complex system of defence made up of physical and chemical barriers.


Immune System Principles

Scientific inquiry has shifted from the original focus of being a pathogen-based perspective to encompass a broader view which considers immune cellular and molecular processes and functions.

Learning about key players and principles in normal immune system function is critical to understand the immunology goals of correctly implemented vaccine theory.

The Immune System refers to a vast system of defence mechanisms of the organism, in this case, us humans. Our systems consist of physical barriers (i.e. skin) and chemical barriers (i.e. cellular response and function). The immune system has two leading responses. The first is known as the ‘innate immune system’, the second is the ‘adaptive immune system’.

When a pathogen or invader is detected, the innate immune system categorizes it and triggers an immediate response. If unable to clear the perceived danger on its own, it will activate the adaptive immune system response.

The adaptive immune response is slower to develop and exceedingly focused. Complex cellular messengers assess and target a specific incoming pathogen to contain and eliminate it. This is done via the production of antibodies made from B cells, cytokines, and cytolytic molecules (produced by T Cells). These types of cells serve as a bridge between encountering a pathogen for the first time and establishing an immune memory for future reference.

The importance of ‘remembering’ can not be understated as an immune memory is key for preventing re-infection and crucial for long-term protection.


Vaccines and the Immune System

The goal of an effective vaccine is to develop an immune memory in individuals which then acts and serves as immunological protection far into the future. Their intention is to prevent disease symptoms which are associated with a pathogenic infection i.e. limit the consequences of an infection.

Vaccines seek to deliver regulated exposure to a specific pathogen in order to facilitate immune response and consequently generate long-lasting immune memory.


Types of Vaccines & New Deliveries

Scientific research has greatly improved the grasp of immune control and disease pathogenesis resulting in refined complexity of the material contained in a specific vaccine.

Currently, the four main types of vaccine are:
1. live-attenuated vaccines (use a weakened part of the germ),
2. inactivated vaccines (use a killed part of the germ),
3. subunit/recombinant, polysaccharide and conjugate vaccines (use a specific component of a germ like a protein or sugar), and
4. toxoid vaccines (use an unwanted product made by the germ).

Method of delivery has also evolved substantially to target specific cellular attributes and instigate adaptive immune response.


Vaccine Treatment

Vaccine treatment’s earliest successes were heralded in the war against smallpox in the 18th century and Polio in the 21st. Furthermore, it has since been used to prevent a host of other diseases which include rabies, typhoid, Hepatitis A & B, yellow fever, and more.

Understanding the scientific theories behind vaccine development serve to inform a thorough assessment regarding the value of vaccinations.


Healthcare Choices

Never before in history have individuals had access to such abundant portals of academic research. One no longer has to depend on anything but reasoned inquiry to guide decisions. The world will be a better and a safer place if each individual is able to assess and analyse the risk and benefit proposed by vaccine theory and the immunological science it incorporates.

Choose academic, reputable, qualified sources and speak personally with your Doctor regarding your unique health profile. Education empowers you to choose for yourself.


Dr Potgieter

Dr Potgieter practices Cosmetic & Reconstruction Surgery from his medical suites located in Sandton Medi Clinic. He advocates for informed patient’ decision-making backed with an understanding of science and risk/benefit analysis.

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