CDC's Definition of 'Vaccine' Has Changed Over Time: 'Protection' vs. 'Immunity'

Susan Jones | January 25, 2022 | 10:13am EST
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People get their COVID shots at Union Station in Los Angeles, California, on January 7, 2022. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
People get their COVID shots at Union Station in Los Angeles, California, on January 7, 2022. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

( - The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging Americans to "get your COVID-19 booster to increase your protection from COVID-19."

The word "protection" has replaced the word "immunity" on the CDC definitions page, as it becomes clear that even fully vaccinated Americans are not "immune" to COVID variants, most recently, omicron.

As reported on May 4, 2021, the CDC at that time defined vaccination as "The act of introducing a vaccine into the body to produce immunity to a specific disease."

But that definition has changed over time. The CDC website now defines vaccination as "the act of introducing a vaccine into the body to produce protection from a specific disease."

The CDC's definition of "vaccine" also has changed: Last spring, CDC defined a vaccine as "a product that stimulates a person's immune system to produce immunity to a specific disease, protecting the person from that disease."

The definition of "vaccine" now reads: "A preparation that is used to stimulate the body’s immune response against diseases."

Last spring, when CDC said vaccination produced "immunity," the health agency also admitted it was "still learning" about how effective COVID vaccines are; whether they protect against variants; whether they keep people from spreading the disease; and how long the protection lasts.

CDC said last April that as its scientists learn more, "CDC will continue to update our recommendations for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Until we know more about those questions, everyone -- even people who've had their vaccines -- should continue taking steps to protect themselves and others when recommended."

Germs vs. genetic material

A different section of the CDC website addresses "common concerns" parents may have about vaccinating their children against a variety of diseases. This section explains that, "Vaccines use very small amounts of antigens to help your child’s immune system recognize and learn to fight serious diseases. Antigens are parts of germs that cause the body’s immune system to go to work."

However, the Pfizer and Moderna COVID shots "are not live vaccines and do not use an infectious element," CDC says.

The so-called mRNA vaccines use strands of messenger RNA that "tell our cells to make a piece of the 'spike protein' that is found on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus...After the piece of the spike protein is made, the cell breaks down the mRNA strand and disposes of it using enzymes in the cell."

CDC says, "the mRNA strand never enters the cell’s nucleus or affects the vaccine recipient’s genetic material."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of President Biden's chief COVID advisers, told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday he hopes the level of COVID infection will fall to "such a low level that it's essentially integrated into the general respiratory infections that we have learned to live with.”

I mean, we would like them not to be present, but they're there. But they don't disrupt society. They don't create a fear of severe outcomes that are broad. You will always get some severe outcomes with respiratory infections. Even in a good pre-COVID era, you have always had that. We'd like it to get down to that level where it doesn't disrupt us, in the sense of getting back to a degree of normality.

That's the best-case scenario. We have got to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. I'm not saying it's going to happen, but we have to be prepared, which is, I think, what you were alluding to a moment ago, that we get yet again another variant that has characteristics that would be problematic, like a high degree of transmissibility or a high degree of virulence.

Fauci said “breakthrough infections” are part of the COVID pandemic, “even in boosted people, but for the most part, they're mild or even asymptomatic.”

Fauci also said a second booster shot may be recommended -- “but before we make that decision about yet again another boost, we want to determine clearly what the durability of protection is of that regular boost, that third shot that we're talking about.”

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