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What Are Antibodies And Why Are They Important?

What Are Antibodies And Why Are They Important?

Before COVID-19 changed our lives, we did not often hear the word antibody. Perhaps, the last time many of us heard of this term was when we were still studying high school biology (unless you’re in the medical field). What are antibodies, and why are they so important? Find out here.

In a Nutshell, Antibodies Are Part of Our Defense

What is an antibody?

They are protein components that circulate in the blood and are a huge part of our immune system. They recognize foreign bodies (called an antigen), such as viruses or bacteria, and neutralize them. Thereby, they prevent and protect us from illness.

Here’s an interesting note: Each antibody we have fits only to a specific antigen. This is why when we test for them, we only focus on a particular disease or infection.

Case in point: If you want to know if you’re protected against hepatitis B, you should test for hepatitis B surface antibodies (anti-HBs). Likewise, if you want to see if you already have protection against COVID-19, you should check for antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

How Do You Get Antibodies?

There are several ways to get antibodies. During pregnancy, mothers can pass them through the placenta; this is what we call passive immunity. For instance, if you’ve had chickenpox, you can give some of your chickenpox antibodies to your baby. Breast milk also contains antibodies. It is one of the many reasons why experts say breast milk is the best for babies.

However, immunity in babies is often temporary and diminishes over time, usually in weeks or months.

Then, there’s acquired immunity, which we get from recovering from a disease or getting vaccinated.

The Importance of Vaccination

Now that we have shed some light on the question, what are antibodies, let’s talk about the importance of vaccination.

Like mentioned earlier, there are two ways to acquire immunity: either you get the infection and recover from it, or you receive the vaccine for a specific disease.

There are instances when it’s fairly okay to develop antibodies by recovering from an infection. For example, young, healthy people often tolerate contracting influenza without so much as a problem other than a week or two of symptoms.

However, there are also cases when getting the infection is more dangerous than getting the vaccine. For example, older people may suffer from complications of the flu, like pneumonia. Likewise, contracting a severe case of polio may lead to a lifetime of paralysis.

Vaccines do not cause the disease, but they teach your body to make antibodies for a particular illness.

Antibody Testing

Testing for antibodies is an excellent way to know if you already have protection against a particular disease. However, most people do not test for antibodies unless they are worried about not being protected from an illness.

Come to think of it, some people who received COVID-19 vaccines opt to test for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies to make sure they have some immunity.

Please note that while antibody testing can determine whether or not you’ve had the infection before, it’s not a good test to check for current infection. This is because it usually takes some time before our bodies create antibodies after contracting an infection.

Key Takeaways

Antibodies are protein components of our immune system. They circulate in the blood, recognize pathogens, and destroy them to prevent them from causing harm.

Babies receive antibodies through the placenta during pregnancy or through breastfeeding once they’re born. Adults can make them by recovering from an infection or through vaccination. However, note that there are many cases when receiving a shot is so much better than acquiring the disease.

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Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Antibody, https://www.genome.gov/genetics-glossary/Antibody, Accessed September 3, 2021

How long do babies carry their mother’s immunity? https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/childrens-health/how-long-do-babies-carry-their-mothers-immunity/, Accessed September 3, 2021

The Immune System, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/the-immune-system, Accessed September 3, 2021

Antibody, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002223.htm, Accessed September 3, 2021

Test for Past Infection, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/testing/serology-overview.html, Accessed September 3, 2021

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Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated Apr 20
Medically reviewed by Janie-Vi Villamor Ismael-Gorospe, MD