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How do childhood vaccinations work?

The battle against childhood disease.

While the COVID-19 vaccination has been a topic for some time, the South African government reminds us that immunisation to protect children against infections and diseases is important. Vaccinations can be given from childhood but children up to 18 years old can also be vaccinated against polio, chickenpox, measles, mumps, hepatitis B, hepatitis A among others. According to the NICD (National Institute of Communicable Diseases), vaccination is the best way to protect children from the unpredictable side effects of serious infectious diseases. Immunisation is available free at state clinics, with the first of the vaccines given at birth.

Ask your GP or Link pharmacist about when your child should be vaccinated against the various diseases.

In order to explain how the body fights disease, we draw the analogy of the body being an army with various components, ranging from the infantry (the antibodies) in the frontline to the elite special forces (vaccination) which often sway the battle.

The body.
The WHO (World Health Organisation) explains that germs are all around us, not only in our environment but in our bodies as well. When a person is susceptible and they encounter a harmful organism, it can lead to disease and even death.

The body is extremely resourceful in defending itself against pathogens (disease-causing organisms such as bacterium, virus, parasites, or fungus). Skin, mucus, and tiny hairs that divert debris away from the lungs all work as barriers to prevent pathogens from entering the body.

When a pathogen does infect the body, our immune system is triggered and attacks the pathogen.

The antibodies.
Each pathogen is made up of parts, called antigens. Antibodies are produced by the body to attack the antigen, forming an important part of the immune system. We have thousands of antibodies in our system, each trained to recognise one particular antigen. When the human body is exposed to an antigen for the first time, it takes time for the immune system to respond. As the antibody prepares and trains to fight the antigen, the child is susceptible and at risk.

The vaccination.
While the antibodies prepare themselves for battle, the child is at risk. The vaccination however allows the body to prepare the way for the antibodies to attack the antigens. The vaccination contains weakened or inactive parts of a particular antigen. This weakened version of the antigen will not cause the disease in the person receiving the vaccination, but prompts the immune system to step in, ready to take over the fight.

Link’s Ryan Conybeare urges parents to have their children vaccinated and to educate others so that together, we can win the battle against the devastating childhood diseases which were so common in our parents and previous generations.



While all reasonable effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of information contained in this article, information may change or become dated, as new developments occur. The Link group shall not be held liable or accountable for the accuracy, completeness or correctness of any information for any purpose. No content in this article, irrespective of the date or reference source, should be viewed as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor, pharmacist or any other suitably qualified clinician.