Vaccines provide a natural and effective protection against infectious diseases.

Infectious diseases are caused by viruses or bacteria. White blood cells in the human body identify certain molecules – antigens – of the pathogen. To overcome the pathogen, the white blood cells start to produce antibodies. The development of this protection takes time and the pathogen has therefore tome time reproduce and produce toxins in the body and do a lot of damage.

Vaccines include these antigens of pathogens, which are recognised by the body and allow for the development of immunity. The antigens contained in the vaccine affect the white blood cells to start producing the antibodies, which are necessary for protection against the pathogens. This way the immunity can develop. The vaccine produces the same immunity as an infection would, but without paying the price of the infectious disease itself. Vaccination does not weaken the immune system – on the contrary, it strengthens the immune system against a specific infectious disease.

Modern compound vaccines contain much fewer antigens than pathogens do. For example, the diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio and Haemophilus compound vaccine contains a total of 22 antigens; hepatitis B vaccine 1 antigen; however the bacteria causing whooping cough contains approximately 3000 antigens. The infant’s immune system is ready to react to thousands of antigens and vaccination does not overload the immune system. Vaccines do not contain any toxic components and no vaccine in Estonia contains mercury compounds.

After the administration of a vaccine, the development of immunity takes a certain time, usually up to 2 weeks. The sustainability of immunity is better if the immune system has repeated exposure to the antigens of pathogens. Therefore, several vaccines are administered repeatedly. The effectiveness of the vaccines is assessed on the basis of how many of the vaccinated people develop the necessary quantity of antibodies and how well the infection is prevented. Most vaccines have an effectiveness of nearly 100%. The effectiveness of the pertussis vaccine in preventing the disease is around 85%, but even if a vaccinated child becomes ill, the disease will be milder.

If a person who has been vaccinated against a disease comes in contact with the pathogen, the immune system is ready for protection – the disease pathogens are destroyed before they can reproduce in the body and the disease cannot develop. Further spread of the infectious disease to other people is also hindered. The vaccine also protects all of the relatives of the vaccinated person. Thanks to this the majority of Estonian children and adults have been vaccinated and the spread of the disease has been interrupted and there are no major outbreaks of the disease. In modern times diseases can spread from one country to the other very fast by air travel.

For more detailed information on vaccinations, ask your family doctor of nurse or midwife or vaccination office nurse.