Long, long ago, in my e-mail newsletter, I explained the difference between a vaccine and a vaccination, and now that it’s the season to get flu shots and people are talking about Ebola vaccines, I thought it would be a good time to include it on the website.
A vaccine is the fluid they inject into you or the aerosol you inhale; it's the preparation of an inactivated microbe or virus that stimulates an immune response that helps protect you from disease. For example, a nurse could say, "The vaccine arrived yesterday." Picture a tube of liquid.
A vaccination is the shot you get. It’s the introduction of the vaccine into your body. You get a vaccination when someone administers the vaccine to you.
A nurse could say, “We can start giving vaccinations now,” or “We run a vaccination clinic.”
We typically think of a vaccination as something that protects you from getting sick if you encounter a bacteria or virus in the future—that’s how the flu vaccine works: it won’t do any good if you get it after you already have the flu—but occasionally, scientists also use the words vaccine or therapeutic vaccine to describe a treatment that triggers an immune response after a person has been infected. Right now, researchers are working on Ebola vaccines that might do both—help people resist infection and respond better after they have been infected.
In summary, the vaccine is the liquid or preparation itself, and a vaccination is the act of administering the vaccine.
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