People can be vaccinated against certain diseases. Principle of vaccination is to use live attenuated load or inactivated. My question is - why we dont have vaccination against all diseases which are caused by microbes?

  • $\begingroup$ We do. It says I'm due for my penumonia vaccine in some thirty years. $\endgroup$
    – Joshua
    Aug 21, 2019 at 20:55
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    $\begingroup$ Imagine the stress on your immune system when you're up for a booster with 10,000 different antigens. $\endgroup$
    – forest
    Aug 22, 2019 at 0:43

2 Answers 2


Mainly cost/benefit analysis. Using vaccines has a cost, both in dollars and in risk. That cost may be very low (cheap safe vaccines, like measles vaccine), or may be relatively high (smallpox vaccine is relatively risky, with around a 1 in 300,000 chance of moderate to severe side effects); but there is always some cost.

Vaccines may not have any significant benefit. I live in the urban USA; it's unlikely that an Ebola vaccine would offer me any benefit (as of the current situation in 2019). Very few people in 2019 have a significant chance of being exposed to smallpox, since it's extinct in the wild; the benefit of universal smallpox vaccine would be small.

So if the risk of a vaccine is greater than the benefit, delivering the vaccine would be more harmful than good. This calculation is done as a routine, and the vaccines people receive are known to be ones that confer more benefit than risk.

In fact, with vaccines, the benefit needs to be much higher than the risk, because with vaccines the benefit is invisible (nothing happens - you don't die of measles) while the risk is something that happens. Typically, vaccine benefit/cost ratios are very high, for that reason.

Monetary cost is also a factor. It may seem harsh to think that saving a child's life with a vaccine is given a price, but at some point the finite supply of money can be used more effectively elsewhere. If it costs a billion dollars to give a particular vaccine, and it ends up saving one life, is that the best use of money? Could it be better spent on nutrition, sanitation, etc?

This applies to quite a few diseases. There are, in academic labs and in the freezers of pharmaceutical companies, vaccines against a lot of pathogens that are not being used, because the cost is too great for the benefit. That's an equation that changes all the time; it applied to the Ebola vaccines at one point, but in the face of an Ebola outbreak those vaccines -- in those areas -- are now cost-effective.

Finally, there are a handful of pathogens for which a reasonably-priced good vaccine would certainly be cost-effective (HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, for example) but for which reasonably-priced good vaccines don't exist, because vaccines are sometimes really hard to make.

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    $\begingroup$ Cost-benefit also needs to look into alternative treatment options. For example, if a bacterial infection can be treated quickly, cheaply, and with few effects by antibiotics, it needs to be extremely common for vaccination to be worthwhile. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Aug 21, 2019 at 1:00
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    $\begingroup$ I feel like your answer would be better if you included a disclaimer at the top in bold about how incredible small the risks of vaccines are. Currently some people may misinterpret it. $\endgroup$
    – Nathan
    Aug 21, 2019 at 9:34
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    $\begingroup$ @iayork Why it is hard to make in the cases you mentioned? Using the same principles as used in other vaccinations, why we cannot make vaccine for TB, malaria, hiv etc $\endgroup$
    – akm
    Aug 21, 2019 at 13:16
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    $\begingroup$ @AmitMaurya The problem is that a vaccine is essentially a "substance" that tricks your immune system into mounting the same response it would have to the pathogen that causes the disease. The trick is to find something similar enough to the live pathogen to represent a threat, but different enough to not cause the disease in the first place. $\endgroup$
    – chepner
    Aug 21, 2019 at 14:22
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    $\begingroup$ @AmitMaurya: There actually are vaccinations for TB. They aren't used in the US because they weren't effective enough (too many strains to have to cover.) My older sister was innoculated against TB. I'm two years younger, and by that time the TB innoculation program had stopped. I was then later exposed to TB, and have some slight damage to my lungs as a result. It is not certain that an innoculation would have helped me. What is certain is that innoculation interferes with the simple "tine test" for TB. TB can be cured with antibiotics. Detection is more important than prevention. $\endgroup$
    – JRE
    Aug 21, 2019 at 14:55

I would suspect that it's because not every disease caused by microbes can be treated by vaccines. For example vaccines are not as effective on microbes that cause skin infections because the antibodies generated by being vaccinated travel in the blood and some microbes damage the skin and nearby tissues without going into the circulatory system to be detected by the immune system through antibodies.

Furthermore, when bacteria reach the blood circulatory system they cause septic shock as the body responds with an inflammatory response to both the microbe and the toxins it produces, which can be fatal. But the amount of microbes that can cause sepsis is extremely diverse: bacteria (Gram negative and positive), fungi, viruses, and parasites; sometimes it happens in combination of microbes [1]. It seems impractical and inefficient to design vaccines against every microbe that cause disease because it seems that anything that can proliferate in the blood will cause disease. Microbes can even cause sepsis without going in the blood [1].

Reference: [1] Sepsis and Septic Shock: Current Treatment Strategies and New Approaches. Gizem Polat, Rustem Anil Ugan, [...], and Zekai Halici. Eurasian J Med. 2017

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    $\begingroup$ Another factor that can limit the effectiveness of vaccines is antigenic variability in the pathogen — influenza viruses being a classic example, but also seen in many bacteria. $\endgroup$
    – tyersome
    Aug 20, 2019 at 19:48
  • $\begingroup$ @tyersome That's a good point you can edit that in if you'd like. $\endgroup$
    – user40950
    Aug 20, 2019 at 22:51
  • $\begingroup$ @tyersome: Yeah; as I'm sure you realize, that's the same reason that people can get the flu over and over again. Another example is the malaria protozoan (Plasmodium). $\endgroup$
    – ruakh
    Aug 22, 2019 at 4:34
  • $\begingroup$ Even more extreme than the flu is the common cold. I found some research from 2016 that achieved success in animal trials, but they had to include dozens of strains in one vaccine. And I expect that, even if this comes to humans in everyday life, it would be like the flu vaccine: a shot each year with the best guess of which strains to include that year. nature.com/articles/ncomms12838 $\endgroup$ Aug 22, 2019 at 16:40

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