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There are several different types of vaccines. Each type is designed to teach your immune system how to fight off certain kinds of germs — and the serious diseases they cause.
When scientists create vaccines, they consider:
Based on a number of these factors, scientists decide which type of vaccine they will make. There are 4 main types of vaccines:
Live vaccines use a weakened (or attenuated) form of the germ that causes a disease.
Because these vaccines are so similar to the natural infection that they help prevent, they create a strong and long-lasting immune response. Just 1 or 2 doses of most live vaccines can give you a lifetime of protection against a germ and the disease it causes.
But live vaccines also have some limitations. For example:
Live vaccines are used to protect against:
Inactivated vaccines use the killed version of the germ that causes a disease.
Inactivated vaccines usually don’t provide immunity (protection) that’s as strong as live vaccines. So you may need several doses over time (booster shots) in order to get ongoing immunity against diseases.
Inactivated vaccines are used to protect against:
Subunit, recombinant, polysaccharide, and conjugate vaccines use specific pieces of the germ — like its protein, sugar, or capsid (a casing around the germ).
Because these vaccines use only specific pieces of the germ, they give a very strong immune response that’s targeted to key parts of the germ. They can also be used on almost everyone who needs them, including people with weakened immune systems and long-term health problems.
One limitation of these vaccines is that you may need booster shots to get ongoing protection against diseases.
These vaccines are used to protect against:
Toxoid vaccines use a toxin (harmful product) made by the germ that causes a disease. They create immunity to the parts of the germ that cause a disease instead of the germ itself. That means the immune response is targeted to the toxin instead of the whole germ.
Like some other types of vaccines, you may need booster shots to get ongoing protection against diseases.
Toxoid vaccines are used to protect against:
The future of vaccines
Did you know that scientists are still working to create new types of vaccines? Here are 2 exciting examples:
Learn more about:
Last reviewed: December 2017