layers. “One for you and one for
the community. So when you are
protected, you are protecting others
in the community.”
How vaccines work
Our world is filled with germs
(bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa,
helminths). They live in, on and
around plants, animals, soil and
water. Most of them are harmless.
Some can be helpful, like the
bacteria in our intestines that help
digest food. But some are relentless
because they are constantly evolving
to conquer our immune system.
They want to storm the castle—our
bodies—and once they do, they begin
to multiply and damage cells. That’s
when our immune system (“the castle
guards”) responds and tries to expel
the microscopic enemy. For example,
we fight off a cold by coughing,
Vaccines are made of harmless
pieces of germs. They work by
tricking the body into believing it is
experiencing a full-scale invasion by
those germs. The body responds
by fortifying its defences. As the
body’s immune system springs into
action, it builds protective armour
and generates antibodies to attack
The body remembers this invasion
so that the immune system can
recognize and neutralize real
germs when they appear. Thanks to
immunization, our protective armour
Scientists estimate that our
immune system can react to about
10,000 different things at a time.
Immunization barely taxes the daily
immune response, even for a two-month-old infant. Vaccines given at
The next generation of vaccines
For most of us, preventing disease is preferable to curing it. And vaccines are
one of the most effective ways to prevent infectious diseases caused by viruses
or bacteria. Thanks to the work of an Alberta researcher and his team, a new
and better vaccine is on the horizon for diseases caused by bacteria or the toxins
Innovates – Health Solutions for his research on childhood infections, says
changing the usual approach to making vaccines for bacterial diseases has
opened up new ways to develop better vaccinations to prevent them.
Vaccines used today for bacterial diseases are made by using the best antigen
(a foreign substance that produces an immune response) to stop infection.
Schryvers’ team has turned that thinking upside down by finding ways to stop
the disease-causing bacteria from thriving.
“What we did was find proteins that were absolutely essential for the bacteria
to survive and targeted them,” he explains. By targeting the proteins, Schryvers
and his team aim to “disarm” the bacteria and prevent people from getting sick.
Schryvers’ team is looking at ways to fight meningitis and upper and lower
respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia, ear infections and sinusitis. Because
the same kind of bacteria that causes these illnesses also causes shipping fever
in cattle and Glasser’s disease in pigs, the research team also receives funds
from the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency.
— Janet Harvey