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What are the different types of vaccines?

Scientists have devised several types of vaccines.

Live attenuated vaccines.
These vaccines—including those for measles, mumps, chickenpox and rubella—contain a live microbe that is weakened in such a way that it can no longer cause disease. Live attenuated vaccines elicit a strong immune response.

Inactivated or "killed" vaccines.
These are made with pieces of a virus that has been killed with heat, chemicals or radiation. Consequently, these "killed" vaccines don't have the risk of mutating and reverting back to their virulent form.

Subunit vaccines.
Subunit vaccines use only those parts of the microbe that stimulate the immune system well—namely, the antigens. By containing only what is needed for an immune response and not all the other parts of the microbe, subunit vaccines tend to cause fewer adverse reactions.

Toxoid vaccines.
With  some bacterial diseases, such as diphtheria and tetanus, the problem is not the bacteria themselves but rather the toxins they produce. These vaccines contain inactivated toxins, known as toxoids. Toxoid vaccines stimulate antibody production. When a person is infected, these antibodies can block the toxins from getting into cells.

Conjugate vaccines.
Conjugate vaccines are a type of subunit vaccine. These work by helping the immune system detect bacteria that might otherwise be disguised by a coating of polysaccharide molecules. This is especially important for immature immune systems, such as a baby's.

Scientists are also working on DNA vaccines and recombinant vector vaccines, which can prevent infection by using the genetic makeup of pathogens to enable cells in the body to create their own antigens and destroy them.

The following types of vaccines are commonly available:
  • Flu vaccine: Protection again some flu viruses.
  • Hepatitis A: Protects against hepatitis A, a serious liver disease that can cause flu-like illness, jaundice and severe stomach pains and diarrhea.
  • Hepatitis B: Protects against hepatitis B, a serious liver disease that can develop into a chronic infection.
  • Herpes zoster: Shingles prevention.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV): Protects against four common types of HPV, including the two most likely to cause cervical cancer.
  • Pneumonia: Protects against pneumonia.
  • Tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (Td/Tdap): Protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.
  • Meningococcal: Protects against some types of meningococcal disease (meningitis).
  • Varicella (chickenpox): Protects against chickenpox, a usually mild but highly contagious childhood disease, which can be serious in infants and adults. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.