Author Question: How Do You Develop a Vaccine From Blood?

Ruby Asks:

I’m currently writing a sci-fi story where a pharmaceutical company has created something that could possibly cure any disease and behaves similar to a virus. Unfortunately, it falls into the wrong hands and is used to harm people. It is decided that a vaccine could help if developed from someone’s blood who carries antibodies to this substance.

Can a vaccine or antidote be made using a blood sample? Also, what would be the proper term for this? Is it a vaccine, antidote, or a serum?

Jordyn Says:

Hi Ruby! Thanks so much for sending me your question. This was pretty fun to research as I learned quite a few new things.

First, let’s define these three terms: vaccine, antidote, and serum.

A vaccine is a “preparation used as a preventive inoculation to confer immunity against a specific disease, usually employing an innocuous form of the disease agent, as killed or weakened bacteria or viruses, to stimulate antibody production”.

An antidote is a “medicine or remedy for counteracting the effects of a poison, disease, etc.”

Blood serum is the substance that remains after the blood forms a clot. Serum is the liquid that “blood cells move through”. It is used for the creation of antiserum. “Because blood serum contains antibodies as well, doctors can also use serum samples to develop what is called antiserum: essentially, blood serum containing resistances to specific illnesses and ailments. When transferred into a non-resistant patient’s bloodstream, antiserum allows that patient to gain resistance to illnesses they may have otherwise been vulnerable to.

A vaccine is usually considered to be a preventative– the person has never had the disease and they get inoculated to keep them from getting it. This would be diseases like measles and mumps.

An antidote usually reverses the effects of a medication or poison and not a biological agent. For instance, Narcan, given to reverse the effect of an opioid overdose could be considered an antidote. Medical people refer to these medications sometimes as reversal agents.

An “antiserum” would be the best term for you to use, as this is giving someone antibodies who is currently infected with the disease. For instance, Dr. Kent Brantly, who contracted Ebola while providing medical aid in Liberia, was treated with antiserum.

So, ultimately, you would need to research how an antiserum is developed. Generally laboratory animals are used and then exsanguinated to be able to collect large quantities of antiserum. So– if you want this character to live– this may not be a good choice for your story. Though, you as the author could also use the death of this character to create conflict in your story, too.

For further articles on developing antiserum you can look here and here.

Best of luck!

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