A preparation of a weakened or killed pathogen, such as a bacterium or virus, or of a portion of the pathogen's structure, that stimulates immune cells to recognize and attack it, especially through antibody production. Most vaccines are given orally or by intramuscular or subcutaneous injection.
See Note at Jenner
A Closer Look In the 1950s, polio epidemics left thousands of children with permanent physical disabilities. Today, infants are given a vaccine to prevent infection with the polio virus. That vaccine, like most others, works by stimulating the body's immune system to produce antibodies that destroy pathogens. Scientists usually prepare vaccines by taking a sample of the pathogen and destroying or weakening it with heat or chemicals. The inactivated or attenuated pathogen loses its ability to cause serious illness but is still able to stimulate antibody production, thereby conferring immunity. The Salk polio vaccine contains “killed” virus, while the Sabin polio vaccine contains weakened “live” poliovirus. (Many scientists no longer consider viruses to be living organisms) Scientists are also able to change the structure of viruses and bacteria at the molecular level, altering DNA so that the potential of the vaccine to cause disease is decreased. New vaccines containing harmless bits of DNA have also been developed.