Each year, millions of people worldwide are plagued by infectious diseases. Many of these illnesses are preventable and can be cured with early detection and treatment. With better access to medicine, more lives can be saved. Vaccines and antibiotics are just two of the best medical discoveries widely available today, helping people fight infections and stay healthier. In this blog, we’ll talk about vaccines vs antibiotics, and how they’re alike and different.
What are Vaccines?
Vaccines help the immune system generate antibodies to protect us from illnesses without getting infected. There are different types of vaccines. Most are administered through injections, while some are administered through nasal sprayers and mouth drops. Vaccines are made from inactivated viruses, so getting them is a safe way to spark an immune response without the risk of complications.
When viruses enter our body, our immune system produces antibodies to destroy foreign invaders and protect us from diseases. This is how we gain natural immunity, as those antibodies stay in the bloodstream even after recovery. Thus, your body can still fight back when exposed to the same pathogen again. The immune system does the same upon vaccination but without actual infection.
Natural immunity, or immunity acquired through exposure to the actual disease, can wane over time. For example, COVID-19 natural immunity is only strong in the first 90 days following the infection. Once antibodies start to decline, we become vulnerable to illness once again. Fortunately, achieving immunity doesn’t mean deliberately exposing ourselves again to illnesses.
Through vaccination, we can safely gain long-lasting immunity and protection without getting sick. Depending on the disease, the primary vaccine series and booster doses usually protect a person for many months or years. Some vaccines even defend people from infections for a lifetime. They prevent measles, chickenpox, tetanus, hepatitis, and infectious respiratory diseases such as influenza and COVID-19.
What are Antibiotics?
Antibiotics are life-saving medicines that suspend the growth of bacteria to protect the body from bacterial infections. They come in many forms and brands, usually sold in tablets and ointments. These medicines don’t work against viruses, just diseases caused by bacteria like urinary tract infections and strep throat.
Different antibiotics destroy bacteria in many ways and can be taken from a few days to a few months, depending on the type of infection and severity. Some attack the cell wall of bacteria, whereas others prevent reproduction.
Antibiotics are typically only recommended for mild bacterial infections since people affected by them usually recover on their own with the help of the immune system. They are only used to treat bacterial diseases that may result in severe complications and those unlikely to improve without treatment.
Taking an antibiotic when you don’t really need it may result in antibiotic resistance, a phenomenon that occurs when bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics, making them ineffective at fighting infections. Resistant bacteria are difficult to kill, and the more they thrive, the more they can reproduce and spread.
Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest global health concerns today, resulting in more than a million deaths each year. Misusing antibiotics means enduring longer treatment processes and more expensive medical bills.
Vaccines vs Antibiotics: Differences and Similarities
Both antibiotics and vaccines protect against deadly pathogens, keeping us healthy in different ways. Antibiotics are effective against bacteria, whereas vaccines defend the body from viruses. The former is typically taken to fight an already existing illness. The latter, meanwhile, strengthens the immune system to prevent future infections.
Both are safe to use by babies, adults, and elders. Antibiotics are made from natural and synthetic sources. Vaccines, on the other hand, are produced using inactivated microbes. Some types of vaccines also contain small amounts of antibiotics to prevent bacterial growth.
Food manufacturers use the same process during packaging to prevent contamination. The small amount of antibiotics in vaccines is safe and won’t contribute to antibiotic resistance.
As with all medical products, vaccines and antibiotics come with side effects. Vaccines can cause mild side effects like fatigue, fever, and joint pain. Taking antibiotics can sometimes lead to stomach upset or other gastrointestinal issues. Most of these are mild and go away in a matter of days.
Is it Safe to Get Vaccinated While on Antibiotics?
Antibiotics don’t interfere or interact with vaccines, so people have no reason to postpone their immunization schedule while on medication. Some, however, choose to wait for a few days since vaccines, like antibiotics, trigger some side effects. But whether you wait or not, the vaccine and the antibiotic will each do their job. Moreover, taking antibiotics doesn’t eliminate the need to get vaccines.
If you’re unsure, it’s a smart idea to have a conversation with your healthcare provider.
Take Antibiotics and Get Vaccinated, If Needed
Now that you know the difference between vaccines vs antibiotics, do you need both? Well, you definitely need vaccines! Getting vaccinated is one of the easiest, safest, and most effective ways to fight disease. This is how you can best protect yourself and the people around you. Even if you do fall ill, vaccines help shorten the duration of illness and decrease the severity of your symptoms. Stay on top of your vaccine schedule — including boosters — for optimal health.
Antibiotics, when necessary, can help you on the road to recovery. Always take them only as prescribed by your healthcare provider and finish the full cycle so that your prescription can do its job properly. Be sure you let your provider know of any other medications you’re taking and even supplements.
Vaccines and antibiotics work differently, both crucial in keeping us safe from infectious diseases and improving our health.