Live Vaccines

Although people usually think in terms of live vs inactivated vaccines, there are actually many other types of vaccines, including those made up of subunits of a virus or bacterial antigen, toxoid vaccines, conjugate vaccines, DNA vaccines, and recombinant vector vaccines.

Live Vaccines

Unlike those other vaccine types, live vaccines actually include a weakened version of a virus or bacteria.

The rotavirus vaccine is a live vaccine.
The oral rotavirus vaccine is a live vaccine. Photo by Vincent Iannelli, MD

These live vaccines include:

  • oral polio vaccine (OPV)
  • measles
  • mumps
  • rubella
  • varicella (chickenpox)
  • rotavirus
  • bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG)
  • oral typhoid vaccine
  • intranasal flu vaccine
  • yellow fever
  • Zostavax shingles vaccine
  • smallpox
  • adenovirus vaccine (military only)

Some, including OPV and BCG aren’t available in the United States.

And while some are only available as a live vaccine, others also have an alternative, inactivated version, including shingles, typhoid, and of course, flu and polio.

Risks and Benefits of Live Vaccines

Live vaccines have many benefits, including long lasting protection.

“The immune response to a live attenuated vaccine is virtually identical to that produced by a natural infection. The immune system does not differentiate between an infection with a weakened vaccine virus and an infection with a wild virus. Live attenuated vaccines produce immunity in most recipients with one dose, except those administered orally.”

The Pink Book: Course Textbook – 13th Edition (2015)

There are some risks though, especially to anyone with immune system problems and if the weakened virus in the vaccine reverts to a more virulent form, as we sometimes see with OPV.

And you can’t necessarily make a live vaccine for every disease.

What about shedding? Although some live vaccines can shed, it is considered a benefit to using the OPV and can be easily avoided with others, like the rotavirus vaccine.

More on Live Vaccines

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