A vaccine is a biological preparation that improves immunity to a particular disease. A vaccine typically contains an agent that resembles a disease-causing microorganism, and is often made from weakened or killed forms of the microbe, its toxins or one of its surface proteins. The agent stimulates the body's immune system to recognize the agent as foreign, destroy it, and "remember" it, so that the immune system can more easily recognize and destroy any of these microorganisms that it later encounters.
Vaccines may be prophylactic (example: to prevent or ameliorate the effects of a future infection by any natural or "wild" pathogen), or therapeutic (e.g. vaccines against cancer are also being investigated; see cancer vaccine).
The term vaccine derives from Edward Jenner's 1796 use of cow pox (Latin variola vaccinia, adapted from the Latin vaccīn-us, from vacca, cow), to inoculate humans, providing them protection against smallpox.
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