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How Are Vaccines Made?

Vaccines are made in many ways, but the goal is always the same: to trigger a child’s immune response to a disease without that child getting sick. Just like training wheels on a bike, vaccines let children practice a difficult skill — fighting off bacteria or viruses — safely.

  • Bacteria or viruses used in vaccines have been significantly weakened or killed, and will not harm your kids. The building blocks of any vaccine are these weakened or killed bacteria or viruses. The building blocks are called antigens, and they are just strong enough to get the attention of your child’s immune system — but not strong enough to make your child sick.

When children are vaccinated, the antigen prompts their immune systems to make and stockpile antibodies against the disease. Antibodies are like the body’s army – when they encounter the live bacteria or virus out in the world, they’ll be ready to fight it off and keep your child healthy.

  • Before a vaccine can be given to your child, it has to be carefully tested by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in a series of steps that can take over ten years to complete. After that, the vaccine is constantly monitored for safety. When creating a new vaccine, researchers:
  1. Study a virus or type of bacteria to learn how it attacks our immune systems and how we can stop it.
  2. Turn viruses or bacteria into antigens – very weak or killed bacteria or viruses that can get the attention of your child’s immune system, but can’t make them sick.  
  3. Add adjuvants (to heighten immune response), stabilizers (to increase shelf life) and preservatives (for multi-dose vials).

Understanding how vaccines are made is a big part of how Vax Maine Kids helps Maine parents feel good about a good decision: vaccinating their kids. Learn more about how vaccines are made.