By now most of you will have grandparents, parents or other family members who have had at least their first dose of vaccine, a lot may have also had their second dose. A lot of your teachers have had at least their first dose too. The UK vaccination programme shows no signs of slowing down.
Yesterday’s news from Downing Street that the government were postponing their planned lifting of all restrictions for another four weeks has come as a disappointment to many, but what is the vaccination, why is it important and what will it mean for life starting to get back to “normal?”
Your immune system is your body’s defense mechanism against all things that want to use your insides as a habitat to grow and breed. Whilst some of these microorganisms are beneficial (think “friendly bacteria” from the Yakult advert!), there are many which, if left to multiply, would make you seriously ill or even kill you, and sometimes, your natural defense could do with a helping hand, or even a sneak preview of the enemy’s battle plans!
Essentially, that is what a vaccine does: it prepares your body for what is to come, should it meet a disease microbe for real.
Each cell of a type of microbe has a unique pattern of proteins on its surface, which are called antigens. It is these antigens that are recognised by one type of white blood cells in your immune system, which then flag them up to other types of cells to “deal with” in all manner of interesting and ways.
Some white blood cells – some produce antibodies that stick to the antigens and make the microbes stick together, some produce chemicals to destroy the microbes, and some, (my favorites), surround, engulf and digest the microbes!
When the battle is over, most of the white blood cells dies off, but some are left in the blood and are ready for action, should you be exposed to the disease again. These are known as memory cells.
A vaccine works as a practice run for the real disease by stimulating your body to produce the white blood cells it needs and allowing you to have a stock of memory cells ready, just in case!
There are currently 4 different vaccines approved for use in the UK, with another one, produced by Novavax in the USA, currently awaiting approval. The vaccines have different methods of introducing the microbe into the immune system, but essentially, they all do the same thing – they teach your body’s defence mechanism how to defend itself.
But what about people of your age? Right from the start of the pandemic, it was evident that people under 16 were at the least risk from very serious illness if they were to contract Covid-19, so the vaccination programme was rolled out in priority order for those who are most at risk.
Information shown on the BBC website this morning states that, in England, (there are slight variation in other parts of the UK):
“from Tuesday 15 June (today), 23 and 24-year-olds can book their vaccine.
- second doses for all over-40s will be accelerated, reducing the interval from 12 weeks to eight
- all adults aged 18 and over will be offered first doses by 19 July (two weeks earlier than planned)
- by 19 July, all those aged over 50 and the clinically extremely vulnerable will have been offered second doses – which should have taken effect.”
However, the BBC news website also reports that:
“No decision has been made on whether teenagers or younger children will be offered a vaccine in the UK.
Vaccinating them could help protect other people, but the risk to children from catching Covid remains extremely low.
The Pfizer vaccine has now been approved as safe for 12-15-year-olds in the UK, and the AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines for over-18s.
Moderna says its Covid vaccine is “highly effective” in adolescents aged 12-17, and it will soon ask global regulators to approve its use for this age group.
Like Pfizer, Moderna is also testing jabs on children between six months and 11 years old.
Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) is currently testing its vaccines on 12-18s. AstraZeneca is trialling its vaccine on six-to-17-year-olds.”
All of this work has been put into protecting the people of the UK, a final push will hopefully allow the governement to be able to reopen society fully in four weeks time.
Until next time, Keep calm and apply some Science!