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Differences between Antibiotics and Vaccines

In modern times, the treatment and prevention of various life-threatening bacterial, viral and other infections have become possible with the advent of vaccines and antibiotics. Both vaccines and antibiotics are used to treat infections or kill germs, but they are different as they work in different ways and are used for different purposes. Antibiotics are used to treat diseases that have already occurred and vaccines are used to prevent diseases that may happen. Let us see how antibiotics differ from vaccines


Antibiotics are small molecules or compounds that are used to treat or stop infections caused by microorganisms like bacteria, fungi etc. They belong to the group of antimicrobial compounds intended to kill harmful microorganism. They kill bacteria or stop them from growing or reproducing. The meaning of word antibiotic is ?against life?, so any drug that is prepared to kill bacteria in the body is technically an antibiotic.

Antibiotics kill only bacteria, they don?t work against viruses. So, they are used for bacterial infections not for the viral infections. Some common bacterial infections that can be treated with antibiotics are as follows:

  • Strep throat
  • Dental infections
  • Ear and sinus infections
  • Bladder and kidney infections
  • Bacterial pneumonia
  • Whooping cough
  • Meningitis


Vaccine is a biological preparation which is used to produce or improve immunity to a specific disease. They are generally given by injection (needle) however some are given orally and nasally (sprayed into the nose). The act of giving a vaccine to produce immunity to a specific disease is known as vaccination.

It is an inactive form of a germ (bacteria or virus). It is generally prepared from small amounts of weakened or dead micro organisms which can cause diseases like viruses and bacteria. In some cases, the inactivated toxins produced by germs or their body parts like surface proteins are used to prepare a vaccine. Vaccines protect us from various diseases like diphtheria, tetanus, polio, chicken pox, small pox, flu, common cold, stomach flu etc.

How vaccine works:

Vaccine contains a small amount of a dead or weakened disease-causing germ (antigen). When this antigen enters the body through vaccination, it causes the body to build immunity or produce antibodies against the antigen or specific infection without causing the actual disease. Some of these antibodies remain in the body. Whenever a real disease-causing germ enters into our body, our immune system quickly recognizes it and produces more antibodies to destroy the actual germ or neutralize toxins effectively. Thus, through vaccination, the information to fight against specific germ gets stored in the immune system or the immune system is already prepared with antibodies to fight that germ.

Based on above information, some of the key differences between antibiotics and vaccines are as follows:

Antibiotics Vaccines
Antibiotics are antimicrobial molecules or compounds which are used to treat infections caused by bacteria, fungi, protozoa etc. Vaccine is an inactive form of a germ (a small amount of a dead or inactivate germ) used to provide immunity to a specific disease.
Antibiotics kill bacteria, mainly used to treat bacterial infections. Vaccines kill viruses, mainly used to prevent viral infections.
Classified into three classes: cyclic lipopeptides, oxazolidinones and glycylcyclines. The types of vaccines include live and attenuated, inactivated, subunit, Toxoid etc.
Available in different forms like tablets, capsules, syrup, drops, ointments. Vaccines are given through injection, in some cases given orally or nasally.
Antibodies are given after getting infected. Vaccine is a preventive measure which is given in advance before the manifestation of an infection.
Its side effects include diarrhea, nausea and allergy. Its side effects include swelling, mild fever etc.
Antibiotic can be used against multiple bacterial infections. A vaccine provides immunity against a particular infection.
It destroys the biochemistry of the bacteria. It improves the natural immunity against germs.
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