Is there any actual difference between inoculation and vaccination or are these terms interchangeable?

In case the difference exists, would it be correct to say that inoculation is purposefully infecting a person with a pathogen in a controlled way, even when the person is already infected, to induce immunity while vaccination is administering dead or weakened pathogens to a healthy person as a preventive measure to check future infections?

Also, would it be correct to say that vaccination is an advanced form of inoculation?


Both are forms of immunisation.

Inoculation is exactly that. A live organism is introduced in a controlled way, so as to minimise the risk of infection, and is essentially the same process followed by many people in history. It is inherently risky.

Vaccination is introducing a weakened version of the pathogen, so that the immune response is triggered and the body is prepared to fight the actual pathogen if necessary. This was pioneered by Edward Jenner, wherein he noticed that cowpox (related to smallpox) immunised the milkmaids against smallpox.

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    $\begingroup$ Cowpox (Vaccinia) is not "weakened smallpox" (Variola). They are entirely separate, but related, viruses. $\endgroup$ – MattDMo May 17 '15 at 14:19
  • $\begingroup$ @MattDMo True. It slipped my mind. Corrected the post. $\endgroup$ – Rover Eye May 17 '15 at 14:22
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    $\begingroup$ Interestingly, the word vaccination is derived from vacca, the Latin word for cow. $\endgroup$ – mgkrebbs May 17 '15 at 23:41
  • $\begingroup$ I'd maybe clarify. A vaccination isn't necessarily the whole pathogen, like the tetanus vaccine is the injection of a tetanus toxoid prepared from the toxin, so you build antibodies toward that (inactive) structure. Likewise, Gardasil is simply inactive viral proteins from HPV. Flu vaccine, however, is indeed attenuated flu strains. I would argue the fundamental difference is inoculation used live organisms where this isnt necessarily true of a vaccine in the modern sense. $\endgroup$ – CKM May 18 '15 at 23:27
  • $\begingroup$ @RoverEye That helped. However, I am still not sure if it would be correct to say that vaccination is an advanced form of inoculation. $\endgroup$ – Prasad Shrivatsa May 25 '15 at 17:10

In a general sense and as per the current scientific parlance, inoculation is used to mean introduction of a microbe to a system. This can refer to immunization procedures as well as for addition of a microbe to a culture medium in microbiological procedures.

Vaccination specifically refers to an immunization procedure which may involve attenuated pathogens, inactivated toxins (tetanus toxoid) or even specific proteins which are expressed in a lab microbe using recombinant DNA technology (as in case of hepatitis-B vaccine).

Etymology of both the terms, however, pertains to smallpox immunization. "Inoculation" is derived from Latin inoculatus, past participle of inoculare "graft in, implant a bud or eye of one plant into another [1]. In this procedure, the immunization was done by infecting an individual with a smallpox pustule from a patient (in a way grafting the pox).

"Vaccination" comes from the latin word vacca which means cow. This refers to the vaccine that Edward Jenner derived from cowpox.

  • $\begingroup$ This is much better answer alhough seems to be less liked. When we transfer microbes to a petri dish, it is called innoculation, although it has nothing to do with immunuty. $\endgroup$ – Barbara Mar 8 '18 at 3:34

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