Vaccines 101 : An introduction to vaccines

UK diseases v/s vaccines

Graph showing the decrease of morbidity rates v/s vaccinations

Whats a vaccine, anyway?

We all understand that vaccine is the common name of a set of medicines renowned for saving humanity from sureshot destruction from incurable diseases. We have been told that the vaccine prepares the body by introducing a small amount of the disease causing germs so the body learns to fight the disease. But what is that  formula that makes a vaccine, well, a vaccine, and why is there so much controversy over preventive medicine that has reversed humanity’s fall into the abyss of infectious disease and destruction? I’ll try and explain in this post, to the best of my abilities.

The active agent, aka the antigen

The goal of the vaccine is to deliver enough antigen into the body of a recipient so that the immune system recognizes the foreign object, aka the disease causing germ if it so decides to invade the body of the patient again. It is assumed , and by large accepted that the immune system of the patient remembers the disease causing organism and effectively fights it off , preventing disease.

So that’s it, a vaccine contains a small amount of antigen, that is about it, right?

Okay, now it gets a little more intricate. Thing is, you cannot put in enough antigen in a syringe and feed it to a subject and cause the immune system of the subject to produce antibodies without infecting the person. So you need something that will stimulate the immune system of the person without causing the target disase. So what do you do?

The Adjuvant

An adjuvant is a chemical that makes the immune system go on an overdrive. It accentuates the effect of the vaccine antigen. When the antigen and adjuvant are combined and injected, the body’s immune system produces much more antibodies than it would produce if the antigen were injected alone. What the antigen does is that it guarantees a better chance of the body producing antibodies to stave off the target disease. Essentially the adjuvant makes the body generate much more antibodies that it would have, without it.

Cool, so our vaccine would contain the Antigen+Adjuvant, that is about it, right?

Somewhat. The above duo would be considered ‘active’ ingredients of the vaccine. But, you need an effective medium to keep them in, right? So you have excipients, a  medium  and a stabilizer – essentially ingredients that would make our  vaccine uniform so that the contents don’t wary bottle to bottle.

Do we have our vaccine yet?

Well, almost. Now  that we have concocted this amazing life-saving substance, we need to preserve it. After all, fungi, bacteria and random contaminants lurk everywhere.  We need to ensure that microbial contamination should not take place in the above life-saving mixture, right? How to preserve stuff? Simple, add a preservative.

All vaccine contains a preservative

To ensure that the contents of a vaccine does not change over time, a preservative is added to the vaccine.

To summarize

 A vaccine contains four ingredients

  1.  The antigen – This could be surface proteins expressed by the target organism, killed cells from the vaccine, even live attenuated disease organisms (vaccine or bacteria)
  2.  Adjuvant – To force the body to increase the antibody production in response to the vaccine
  3.  Stabilizers, excipients, etc added to make the vaccine uniform.
  4.  The preservative.

So what’s the big deal? why is there so much controversy over vaccines

Claim # 1 Vaccines induce an immunity by stimulating the body ‘s immune system to produce antibodies against a target antigen.

The latter is definitely true. The problem is , we have just believed that because the body’s immune system develops an antibody, that helps the body fight the disease. While this claim has been established as fact in the minds of the vaccine promoters, and pretty much every body who believes in a vaccine’s ability to stave off a target disease, this has never been established through a trial. Basically, this claim has never been proved.  As outrageous and absurd as it might sound, the idea that antibody production following a vaccine prevents or mitigates infection from the target organism has never been established through a trial. In fact, such a trial has never been designed. Whenever a vaccine has failed to work in the past, the outcome has never been to question the vaccine, but to come up with what is essentially an arbitrary timeframe of the vaccine’s effectiveness based on some statistical analysis. And the recommendation has been to add a booster of the vaccine to supposedly boost the immune system against the target disease.

Claim #2 Vaccines are inherently safe.

You walk into a Doctor’s office , the Doctor examines your kid, and the Doctor recommends a vaccine. Its not a vaccine that is Government recommended, but your peadiatrician tells you ‘Why take chances?’ – Sounds familiar.  The subliminal context here is that the vaccine is safe , and that assumption is made both by the Doctor and the patient.

What is the issue then?

Both of the above claims have *never been verified*. That is a fundamental contention between the pro and anti sides of the vaccine debate. Nobody disputes the idea that a vaccine induces antibodies, at least in a good majority of the recipients. Whether this does help or not is pure conjecture. But unfortunately organized medicine places a premium on the belief that somehow the body learns to fight the disease because, duh , it has responded to the vaccine. There never has been a test that has proven that the vaccine prevents or mitigates the target disease in any way.

So why does the body respond to the vaccine

If you inject a mixture of chemicals and biological agents, it is but natural that the body will attack the invasive organo-chemical entity. Its downright absurd to *assume* without clear proof that the bodies’ response to the constituents of the vaccine indicates that the body is capable of fighting the target disease.

But… haven’t we eradicated diseases due to vaccines. At least that is what we have always learnt.

This is a very good demonstration of indoctrination at an early age. Generally we grow up believing as fact whatever we learn as kids. The following facts are very relevant here

  1.  Most diseases ceased to be killers before mass vaccination was introduced
  2.  Death rate from Measles, Mumps, Whooping Cough,Diptheria were down to a negligible number by the turn of the century.
  3.  Small pox was not eradicated before mass vaccination. But there were entire villages which came down with many smallpox cases despite vaccination,whereas there were instances were unvaccinated people did not get the disease.
  4.  Claims of Polio eradication are not valid. Publicly available statistics show that the number of paralysis cases actually increase when the number of Polio vaccines are increased.

The Chingleput study, what is that?

About the only genuine population study done on vaccines happenned in Chingleput district in Tamil Nadu. The Government of India wanted to figure out how much immunity was provided by the BCG vaccine, since India was (and is) a Tuberculosis endemic country. About 300000+ people were followed up from childhood to adulthood. About a 1/rd received one variant of the BCG vaccine, another third another variant, and a third were never vaccinated. At the end of 15 years, the number of TB cases were tabulated from the three groups, it was found there was no significant variation either of the number of cases or the deaths.

Are vaccines safe?

Officially,all vaccines are considered safe and effective. That’s why they are in many vaccine schedules.

How is this safety determined?
Well the vaccine manufacturer submits the safety data to the authorities (FDA) and the FDA reviews it. This data is proprietary stuff, not tbe shared among the general public. But here are some interesting bits of information that can be verified with some help

  •  The Measles vaccine is determined safe enough by the following way. Its injected into the hypothalmus of a group of rhesus macaques , and if a certain number of them survive, then its safe. And yes, if it fails once, apparently you can redo it till you get a successful result
  •  Mumps vaccine produced from the Urabe strain of the virus tends to cause meningnitis. However, this does not happen till beyond 21 days of the injection. So how is a mumps vaccine safety tested for meningnitis. Simple. The cut-off date is about 18 days or so. So if the Mumps vaccine recipient does not go down with meningnitis before 18 days, the vaccine is safe
  •  A version of the Tetanus vaccine is determined safe, if , when injected into a bunch of mice, a certain percentage of them survive.

So how come most Doctors and Paediatrician insist on so many vaccines

Simply because they are told to. Every country has a recommended schedule. Paediatricians are duty bound to recommend that schedule. In India, there are two separate schedules. The Govt sanctioned and  subsidized official one is called the Universal Immunization Scheme. This includes the BCG, 3 doses of DPT , 3 doses of Polio (now the number of doses is much more than 3, thanks to the routine Polio Sunday’s that are held all the time)

So how come we don’t have enough people questioning vaccines

Difficult to answer this one. There are two standard outcomes of regularly vaccinating children.

  •  There is some immediate reaction to the vaccine. Based on the vaccine it could be fever, or some infection following the days of the vaccine. Most parents are told that there would be some fever, and are encouraged to control the fever using standard fever medicine. So they tend to ignore it.
  •  Child frequently falls ill. In this case, parents have not really learnt to connect the vaccinations with the frequent episodes of illness of their child. One real problem is that there aren’t too many unvaccinated children around, so sometimes despite misgivings, parents tend to do what everyone else does  - namely vaccinating their children with as many vaccines as they can afford, or what the Doctor recommends.

But why is a vaccine dangerous.

Simple. It contiains ingredients known and *proven* to be toxic and dangerous. I’ll just list 3 of them below

  • Thimerosal – A mercury compound. Used as a preservative. Damages the brains and can cause cancer.  Officially they say the amount is too low to be unsafe. That is not based on any testing. A standard vaccine can contain 25micrograms which is above the limit for an adult (and its given to a small infant)
  • Formaldehyde  - Used as a preservative, and to *weaken* strains of the disease causing organism.
  • Aluminium Hydroxide. – Used as an adjuvant. Also a known toxic compound, Aluminum has been linked to Alzheimers’ among other things

But , if you can show that vaccines are unsafe, the you could sue the vaccine manufacturers, right?

No, most countries have passed legislations that explicitly absolve anybody involved in the business of delivering vaccines (manufacturers, doctors, nurses- anybody in the chain) from any civil or criminal damages.

*Disbelief* This sounds so conspiracy theorist

Given the nature of the issue, that is rather unfortunate. There is enough data for you to dig into , to make your own decisions. You don’t have to believe anybody in any side of the debate. Given the facts that I have detailed above, your best bet is to do some research on your own. But please be vary of emphatic statements without any data to back it up. Whatever I’ve posted here is verifiable.


I’ve tried to summarize what a vaccine is, for the general public, especially parents of children so that they have a starting point to try and understand what vaccines are all about.  I’ve avoided going into too much detail because I wanted to keep it short and simple. I’ll go into detail in future posts.

References and suggested reading/viewing

Senator Dan Burton talks about Autism and Thimerosal. Also shows a peek into Autistic children.

Vaccine nation, a documentary about vaccines.


This covers the following

  1. The thimerosal use in vaccines
  2. Shaken baby syndrome and vaccines
  3. SIDS and vaccines

Alan Yurko was wrongly convicted of killing his baby by shaking. This conviction was later overturned when the death was shown to be caused by injuries due to convulsions from vaccination.

This is a documentary with a fairly balanced narrative on the topic. It tries not to take sides and covers the history of vaccines, how they started off as a public health initiative, but how they have ended up harming people as well.

  1. Documents dangers of vaccines
  2. Vaccines are not independently studied
  3. Features Dr Wakefield and his work on Autistic Children

This documentary looks at vaccine injuries in US, Canada and France, and it has been made by a Canadian film-maker. It talks about how difficult it is to get injury compensation in the US if somebody gets injured from a vaccine. It features adults who have been injured by the vaccines, and their stories.

I decided against posting a lot of links to medical journals, since I wanted the narrative of this particular blog post to be as simple as possible, and to that extent, I’ve tried and avoided the use of any medical-sounding terminology. Together with what I have written above and the documentaries I have referenced, there is enough material for anybody to begin the process of trying to understand vaccines. I’ve also tried to restrict myself to the very basic science of vaccines. Vaccines have been documented to cause a whole lot of problems, but I’ll leave those to another blog.

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