When you wear an oxygen mask, it can only provide you with oxygen, not anyone else. In the same way, being vaccinated against a particular pathogen can only protect you from it, not anyone else, even if you donate your blood.
When you were young, do you remember those timely visits to the doctor’s clinic, which usually started with whining and ended in tears, alone with the lingering sting of an injection? Well, it wasn’t all for nothing.
Those injections are the reason why you’ve never been infected by diseases like measles, rabies, mumps or diphtheria, which otherwise could result in a pandemic! Those injections were vaccines that helped immunize you to these diseases, along with several others.
The magic potion of a vaccine
So, how can a few injections possibly protect you from countless incurable infectious diseases? The irony is that the microorganisms that cause these diseases can also save you from them, much like what Kryptonite can do to Superman.
Vaccines contain the same microorganisms, but it’s either dead or artificially weakened enough not to cause any major illness to the body. Sometimes the vaccines only contain the toxoids of these microorganisms, which leads us to the question; what are toxoids?
When these infectious agents enter the body, they begin to release chemicals called toxins, which affect the functioning of various enzymes and cells in our body. When these toxins are scientifically altered to make them harmless, they result in the formation of toxoids. These toxoids can initiate the same response from the immune system as the toxins would, only with the guarantee of not potentially harming the body, as the toxins could.
Now, there’s one thing that all vaccines have in common that makes them effective enough for the purpose of protecting our immune system, which is the presence of an antigen. An antigen is a proteinaceous outer covering of all microorganisms, specific to each of them (much like the skin of every animal). As a matter of fact, even the cells of our own immune system have their own specific antigen.
The magic secret of a vaccine
When you were vaccinated as a child, did you ever fall sick for a short period after that? Well, there’s a reason for that.
When you were vaccinated, and the microorganisms entered your body, the first thing your immune system noticed was-that those cells have a different outer body. In other words, these cells have a different antigen, meaning that these cells are foreign cells, so they must be DESTROYED! Thus, the T-cells and B-cells in your body formed a pact. There are now 4 types of T-cells in your body: helper T-cells, cytotoxic T-cells, memory T-cells and natural killer T-cells.
The helper T-cells alerted the B-cells to start making soldiers that could help fight those invaders, so the B-cells produced antibodies and macrophages. The antibodies were extremely specific. Their shape was complementary to the shape of the infectious agent, so the two of them joined together (much like a bottle and its cap), in order to form an antigen-antibody complex.
The antibodies then brought them to the macrophages, which are more like Terminators. Their job is to kill! The macrophages eliminated all casualties in a killing spree, called phagocytosis. In this process, they engulfed the complex and began to secrete chemicals that degraded the complex into debris. The entire process took a couple of hours.
Now, macrophages are messy killers. When they engulfed the complex, some of the deteriorated mass was released back into the tissues. This alerted other phagocytes, like macrophages, to spring into action until there was no sign of the microorganism. All the extra antibodies then remained in your bloodstream for a particular period of time. Meanwhile, the T-cells produced several copies of memory T-cells, which may still continue living in your armpits, neck, chest, groin and abdomen.
Meaning that, if the same microorganism ever invades your body again, they can destroy it much faster, so thy have something like a back-up plan. Now, all of this action required a lot of team effort and coordinated response, including an increase in body temperature (to kill the pathogens) and the weakening of the immune system (since it’s mainly concentrated on defeating an already invaded species).
Can the vaccination magic be donated?
Now that you’ve been vaccinated against a particular infectious agent, you’re said to be immune to that particular disease. So, if you donate blood to your friend who has never been vaccinated, will your friend suddenly become immunized too?
We can now be immunized against more diseases with fewer antigens.
There is a good probability that your friend will receive a small number of antibodies from you, but they will only be able to protect him for a short period of time before they degenerate. Also, we have to talk about proportions in more detail. An average human body contains about 9-12 pints of blood, whereas an average donation involves the transfusion of only about 1 pint of blood.
That is a vast difference. Taking this into consideration, the amount of antibodies transferred would also not be adequate to protect your friend against a disease. There is also a probability that there may be no antibodies alive in your bloodstream, meaning that all you have are memory T-cells, which mainly reside in the lymphoid organs.
In short, your friend would also have to undergo being vaccinated, because your significantly diluted level of protection wouldn’t keep them safe!
- Carrington College
- University Of California, Berkeley
- The National Academies Press
- Oregon State University