Updates from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation
A frequently asked question everywhere right now is “When will the vaccine for COVID-19 be available?” While more and more information is coming out nationally, the truth is we still don’t have much news locally yet.
Most of us remember our parents taking us to the doctor to get vaccinated for a variety of things. This includes things like polio, chickenpox, mumps, and the flu. Today, we are seeing more and more older adults choosing to get the shingles vaccine.
So what exactly is a vaccine? It is a medicine that trains the body’s immune system to fight a disease it has not come in contact with before. A vaccine is designed to prevent a disease rather than treat it once you have caught it. Quite simply, vaccines enable the body to make the right sort of antibodies to fight a particular disease. In order to understand how a vaccine works, it helps to know more about our immune system because a vaccine harnesses the natural activity of your immune system.
Our immune system is comprised of a complex network of cells, organs, tissues and substances that help our body fight various diseases and infections. The immune system includes white blood cells, organs and tissues of the lymph system such as thymus, spleen, tonsils, lymph nodes and bone marrow. Immune systems play a vital role in protecting the body from harmful germs and cells that make you ill.
Many of us have heard that once you have had COVID-19, your body has antibodies. Antibodies are our body’s best defense. Antibodies are proteins the body produces in response to infection. They coat invading cells and prevent those cells from replicating. An antibody test tells you if you were infected in the past.
So why do some diseases like measles infect us once and grant us lifetime immunity while for others like the flu we need to be vaccinated every year? The flu, for example, is a virus that can change and as our immune system rids our body of one version another emerges that our body doesn’t recognize. Some viruses such as polio for example can’t easily change which is why we have been so successful nearly eradiating it worldwide.
We often also see reinfection with the common cold and other infections that don’t travel through the body much past our upper respiratory tract. This is because the body doesn’t develop many antibodies against these pathogens. This is what is believed to occur with mild cases of COVID-19. The virus sticks to the upper respiratory tract where the body doesn’t see it as a threat.
While it has been found that diseases like mumps and measles can take 200 years for even half a person’s antibodies to disappear, it is important to keep in mind that antibody responses generally don’t last a lifetime. There is currently no strong evidence pointing to how long COVID-19 immunity lasts. There have been a few recorded cases of reinfection, although they remain rare.
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