I Wish People Wouldn’t Say “Vaccine-Resistant”

Recently, I read something containing the phrase “vaccine-resistant.”

In my opinion, this is poor wording.

Before I continue with my reasoning, let it be known that I do not hold a medical degree of any kind, and therefore I am speaking purely from my own personal understanding of how viruses, vaccines, and the human body work.

A vaccine is information. It shows the body’s immune system what a pathogen, such as a virus, “looks” like, without actually introducing a virulent strain of that pathogen. You might not feel great for a few days, but this is due to your body’s response, not to the “pathogen” itself. After you “fight off” the “information,” your body remembers the threat and if you meet it for real, you’ll destroy it before it can invade, replicate, move on to another host, and possibly destroy you in the process, although without any knowledge or intent.

Every virus is different. A flu virus and a COVID-19 virus are different pathogens, and knowing one does not equip your body to know the other. There are also different strains or variants of viruses. These can be anywhere from quite similar to each other all the way to very different — as different as flu and COVID-19.

You’ve probably heard of antibiotic resistance. If not, it means that a bacterium is not killed by a given antibiotic that used to kill it. This is a good use of the word “resistant.” Viruses can also develop resistance to antiviral medications, and that is also another correct use of the word “resistant.”

It does not make sense to apply the word “resistant” when it comes to vaccines. The vaccine does not attack the virus or bacterium directly. It “attacks” your body, which destroys it and learns about that threat. If another threat comes along, and your body does not recognize it, then it may not be able to fight it off. A new vaccine would need to be developed before your body could learn about that other threat.

Let’s take COVID-19 as an example. I don’t feel like looking up the strain designations, and since this is an example, I am going to use the letter A, meaning the original strain of COVID-19, for which the vaccine was developed. People vaccinated with vaccine A will recognize and destroy strain A.

Now, suppose that COVID-19 strain A mutates and becomes strain B. It’s very similar to strain A, so even those vaccinated for strain A will destroy strain B.

Let us now suppose that strain A mutates and becomes strain Z. It is vastly different from strain A. It may or may not be more lethal or more infectious, but it just does not “look” like strain A. Somebody who was vaccinated for strain A will destroy strain B, but their body will not recognize strain Z as something like strain A. Therefore, the vaccine for strain A is not effective against strain Z, but strain Z is not resistant to anything. If a vaccine were developed against strain Z, people’s bodies would learn about it, and strain Z would find fewer and fewer defenseless hosts within which to replicate itself.

If you can, please get vaccinated against COVID-19 and other viruses and bacteria. If you have questions or concerns about anything vaccine-related, please ask your doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare pro.

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