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Unit 1 - Vaccination

In GCSE Biology students will look at how people can be immunised against certain unpleasant, and even deadly, diseases by vaccination. The vaccination process is often referred to as inoculation and has helped to completely eradicate some diseases such as smallpox. Many vaccines are given in early childhood as the immune system of a child is nowhere near fully developed. A number of these will give lifelong protection from a single dose but others need to be boosted some years later. Vaccines are most commonly administered singly but there are some combined vaccines such as the one that gives protection against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).

Vaccines are made in several different ways. In some vaccines, for example those targeting measles and tuberculosis, live pathogens are treated in the laboratory to make them harmless. They will produce either a mild form of the disease or no disease at all. Some vaccines contain harmless fragments of the pathogen, for example vaccines used against hepatitis B and certain types of meningitis. The tetanus and the diptheria vaccines use the toxins produced by the target diseases. There is a final group of vaccines, for example the injected polio vaccine, which contains the dead pathogen.

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They all work in a similar way. Pathogens have proteins on their surface which are termed antigens. These antigens are detected by the white blood cells which then produce antibodies. The antibodies will either engulf and destroy anything with the antigen or render it harmless. But that is only part of the story. In order to protect you from these infections in the future, some of the white blood cells 'memorise' the antigen and the corresponding antibody. Thus, should you become infected at some point in the future, your immune system can start to produce the correct antibodies to eliminate the infection before it gets to the stage where the pathogen can reproduce faster than your white blood cells can destroy it.

Try this quiz and see how well you understand how vaccination can help our immune systems to combat disease.

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  1. Which of following describes how antibodies are released after a person has been vaccinated?
    It is important for your immune system to destroy the pathogen before it can reproduce faster than your white cells can destroy it or make it harmless
  2. Memory cells are specialised types of which cells?
    Vaccination only works because these cells exist
  3. Pathogens do not include which of the following?
    Pathogens are usually microorganisms and viruses
  4. Immunity means resistant to what?
    You have a natural immunity to many infections
  5. Which of the following might you find in a vaccine?
    This is just one of the ways in which vaccines are made
  6. Vaccines are very safe for most people, but they can be dangerous for who?
    Allergy is the most common reason for side effects after a vaccine. It can be very serious and lead to anaphylactic shock
  7. Which of the following types of cancer do we have a vaccination for?
    This is possible because most cases of cervical cancer are caused by a pathogen called the human papilloma virus (HPV), rather than a genetic problem or environmental causes
  8. Which of the following is not a name for white blood cells?
    This is the scientific name for red blood cells
  9. Which of the following might you find in a vaccine?
    Antigens that are not attached to their pathogen pose no risk to the body, however, they will provoke your immune system to produce the correct antibodies to deal with them thus creating immunity
  10. White blood cells do not produce which of the following?
    This is the part of the pathogen that triggers your immune system's response

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