Vaccine Facts | Is the Immune System Born or Built?

As babies, we are born with an extremely weak immune system, having not been exposed to any environmental pathogens the immune system is a sort of learning mechanism that “identifies and logs” threats as they come.

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The only immunity we have is that given to us by maternal immunoglobulins, which help prevent a newborn from getting sick soon after birth. Unfortunately, these immunoglobulins do not last and, after a few months, the infant’s immune system is on its own.

This is not true, however, among breastfed infants, which continue to gain protection against disease from the mother’s milk, which makes them relatively invulnerable to those infections a mother is already immune to.

Let’s dig deeper into what makes the immune system tick as we get older.

Building an Immune System

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The first actions of the infant’s immune system happen as a result of immunizations. This usually happens fairly early on in an infant’s life. For example, infants receive their first dose of hepatitis B vaccine shortly after birth and before leaving the hospital.

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Other vaccinations against diseases like rubella, measles, mumps, diphtheria, tetanus, and various viruses are given in the first few months of the infant’s life. When a vaccination happens, the infant’s immune system must kick in and develop antibodies of its own. The infant is generally only partially effective in doing this after just one immunization and so a series of vaccinations are given to boost the immunity up to adequate levels.

It is believed that the purpose of these and all the other immunizations given to children is to prevent these infections from happening to the child and to reduce the overall burden of these diseases to the rest of society that may not be immune to all the various diseases. Some types of infection have been eradicated or nearly eradicated, due to the efforts of immunization programs throughout the world.

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Still today however, there are many new ideas and findings surrounding the practice of immunization. As the times evolve, parents and caretakers are entrusting the building of the immune system naturally to combat anything that may attack. We still don’t know all the answers, but hope to find a balance between the practices.

When The Immune System Doesn’t Work

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In some young children and adults with certain conditions, the immune system does not work well and immunizations are ineffective in helping the individual make the necessary antibodies to the vaccines. People who are malnourished, for example, do not make antibodies well and will continue to be at risk for developing the disease. This is especially true of the elderly, who receive influenza shots every year with only some of them having the ability to make antibodies against the influenza virus.  

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The reason why some scientists believe that the immune system is made and not born is because there are many lifestyle factors that go into having a good immune system. People with diabetes have an impairment of their immune system. The same is true of alcoholics, although the mechanism by which this occurs is not clear. If the immune system isn’t working properly, there is potential for immunizations to not have any type of positive effect. 

The Best Advice

eating well

You can improve the functioning of the immune system by having healthy lifestyle factors. This means eating enough good calories in order to make sure that the immune system can make the various cells and antibodies necessary for adequate immune health. Habits like alcohol use, drug use, and smoking also impair the immune system and should be discontinued for better health.

There is also evidence that regular exercise can boost the immune system function. These are things you can do to support your immune system so that you can make antibodies against vaccines you receive as well as make antibodies and have healthy immune cells so that the immune system can kick in when you need it. 

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