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How Vaccines Work

Many Maine parents have no memory of the fear their own parents and grandparents felt during outbreaks of diseases like polio or mumps. With one shot, we can now give children immunity from devastating diseases for life. We are used to a world without these terrible diseases. We forget how easily they can come back and how hard it is to treat them if they do.

Vaccines give children a safe head start on fighting dangerous diseases. In the womb, babies are completely protected from bacteria. As soon as they are born, they are exposed to thousands of bacteria all at once and begin developing an active immune response right away.

But what if they encounter a germ they’re not yet strong enough to fight? By exposing them to specific diseases in a safe way through vaccines, we help children’s immune systems practice fighting off the diseases that could hurt them the most.

How does this work?

  1. The building blocks of any vaccine are 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.
  2. As soon as children are old enough to tolerate the antigen, they can be given the vaccine according to the timeline set up by the carefully tested, tried and true vaccine schedule recommended by the CDC.
  3. 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.

Long after the tears from the shot have dried, their immune systems will continue to make antibodies that will recognize and fight that germ. If your children are ever exposed to the real disease, their immune systems know what to do so they don’t get sick.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended vaccination schedule (use scroll bar to see all):