Vaccinations work by giving small amounts of a weakened or dead form of a pathogen.
When a vaccine is given, the immune system will produce antigens from the pathogens. This triggers a range of responses, such as the production of antibodies. This means that if a person is exposed to the same pathogen again, the body will recognise the antigens and fight the infection before symptoms occur.
There are a number of reasons why vaccinations are used, including:
The NHS offers a schedule of free vaccines in the UK. The majority of the vaccines on the routine schedule are the 13 childhood vaccines.
Here’s what you should know about vaccinations:
The first person to get the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in the UK received it the morning of December 8, 2020. Up to four million people were expected to get the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by the end of the month – but the reality was that just 786,000 people were given the first dose by December 31, 2020. On January 4, 2021, the first doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine were administered in hospitals.
Both vaccines are designed to be given as two injections, 21 days apart – but the government instead decided to give the first dose to as many people as possible and follow this up with the booster 12 weeks later. Some experts questioned this immediately.
The government reached four million vaccinations by January 18, 2021. It’s been able to scale-up numbers thanks to the mass vaccination centres that have opened across the UK, plus the roll-out at more than 1,000 GP-led surgeries and 250 hospitals. With the addition of 24-hour vaccinations, it’s hoped the government can meet its pledge to vaccinate every adult in the UK by September.
Keep up to date on the progress of other COVID-19 vaccines with these resources:
Anti-vaccination groups claim that vaccines are unnatural and toxic, with an emphasis on the alleged risks of vaccines. It’s an issue that dates back to the 1880s when ‘anti-vaxxers’ protested in Leicester about the smallpox vaccine.
Anti-vaccination social media pages have had an increase of 7.7 million followers from the UK and US during the COVID-19 pandemic. An investigation revealed that hundreds of NHS staff were members of an anti-vaxxer Facebook group that compared the COVID-19 vaccination to poison and are opposed to wearing masks.
It’s become such a big issue that Labour has proposed a new law to tackle the spread of fake anti-vaccination news during the pandemic.
In 1998, a controversial paper linking the MMR vaccine to autism was published in the Lancet, authored by Andrew Wakefield and 12 others. The paper proposed a new syndrome called autistic enterocolitis that raised the possible link between a novel bowel disease, autism and the MMR vaccine.
The paper got widespread publicity despite the fact that the sample size was small, it couldn’t be replicated and the design was uncontrolled. It later emerged that the team behind the paper had engaged in ethical misconduct.
In 2017, The WHO declared the UK has eliminated measles after the country reached a high enough level of immunity to stop endemic transmission. However, in August 2019 the UK lost its measle-free status.
It’s thought that this can be traced back to the falling levels of MMR vaccinations between 1998 and 2004 – because these children are now at university, and that’s where the high level of measles and mumps are being reported.
In 2019 there were 890 cases of measles reported in England. The year before there were almost 1,000 measles cases and 5,500 cases of mumps.
A study by the Royal Society of Public Health shows that two in five parents have been exposed to negative messages online about vaccines.
Another reason for falling vaccinations could be that because it’s been generations since the mumps and measles were endemic in the UK, perhaps many parents have forgotten how serious the illness was and therefore do not feel an urgency to vaccinate their child.
The timing and availability of appointments is also an issue, according to a survey conducted by the Royal Society of Public Health in 2018.
The NHS Long Term Plan includes various measures that will be used to increase the uptake of both MMR doses. This includes improving local coordination and support to improve immunisation conversation in low uptake areas. They’re also adding an MMR check for children aged 10 and 11 with GPs, and trying to ‘catch up’ young adults who missed the MMR vaccinations as children.
Some of your interview questions may focus on vaccinations in order to test your understanding of ethics and current affairs. Some example questions include:
Check our Interview Question Bank for more questions and thorough answer guides.
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