An article at mercola.com entitled Outspoken Vaccine Advocate States Measles Vaccine Can't Prevent Measles Outbreaks makes the claim that (emphasis added):

Because vaccine antibodies are different from naturally acquired measles antibodies, young vaccinated moms today cannot give longer lasting naturally acquired measles antibodies to their newborns.

For that sentence, it cites an editorial from the Vaccine Journal, entitled The re-emergence of measles in developed countries: Time to develop the next-generation measles vaccine?, but that article doesn't appear to mention anything about natural versus vaccine antibodies.

So, please put aside all of the other issues in the pro/anti-vaccine debate, and help me find an answer to this specific claim:

Is there any difference between vaccine antibodies and naturally acquired antibodies, specifically for the measles? If no data on the measles is available, general data on other antibodies will be an acceptable proxy.

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    To be clear, there are no antibodies in vaccines. Vaccines generate an immune reaction so that the body creates the antibodies.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 8:02
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    FYI this article is what's cited in a footnote as justification for the claim in question.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 14:16
  • @ChrisW - thanks for that link. That helps to cut through the nonsense of the claim. Commented May 22, 2018 at 15:55

2 Answers 2


In both cases, infection and vaccination, the antibodies are generated by the body. Since the antibodies can target different epitopes and there are different types of antibodies, it is possible for the strength of the immune response to be different and the composition could be different as well.

The article cites a paper that actually supports the statement to some degree:

Children of mothers vaccinated against measles and, possibly, rubella have lower concentrations of maternal antibodies and lose protection by maternal antibodies at an earlier age than children of mothers in communities that oppose vaccination. This increases the risk of disease transmission in highly vaccinated populations


The duration of protection against measles was 3.3 months for newborns in the general population and 5.3 months for newborns in the orthodox Protestant communities.

("Waning of Maternal Antibodies Against Measles, Mumps, Rubella, and Varicella in Communities With Contrasting Vaccination Coverage," Sandra Waaijenborg et al, 2013)

They measured a difference that indicates that the vaccine-induced protection is not as long-lasting in newborns. They also speculate about the reason for this:

The most likely explanation for this is that MMR vaccine induces lower antibody levels than natural infection with measles, mumps, and rubella and that antibody levels of vaccinated cohorts are no longer boosted by exposure to wild-type infection.

But even though this particular aspect is correct, it doesn't support the conclusion of the mercola.com article. Just because the vaccine isn't perfect doesn't mean that it is useless. The conclusion from the cited article is that the vaccine schedule must be adapted to protect newborns, not that vaccines are useless.

As a reminder on the danger of the measles, and the benefit of the vaccine I'll just quote from the article in Vaccine you linked:

Just a decade ago, in 2000, measles killed an estimated 777,000 people a year worldwide. In 2010, measles killed only 160,000 worldwide—a testament to widespread use of vaccine.

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    Aren't there different strains of Measels? Wouldn't this allow for different antibodies?
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 8:40
  • @Sklivvz I might have written that a bit misleading, there are of course different antibodies targeting different epitopes of the measles virus. But there is no fundamental difference between an antibody created by a vaccine and a full infection.
    – Mad Scientist
    Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 8:44
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    @sumelic - The quote in the question uses the terms "vaccine antibodies" vs "natural antibodies," and does not specify "antibodies produced in response to a vaccine." No big deal if you understand immune responses, but if people understood immune responses anti-vax nonsense would not be as widespread. That leaves room for confusion, so the first sentence is being proactive and clarifying what the quote did not. Nothing wrong with that. It's understood by you and me, but not by everyone. Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 15:52
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    It's important to note that although babies may be larger percentage of measles cases in highly-vaccinated communities, for the reasons indicated in the above-quoted article, the absolute number of babies with measles is much lower. Commented May 21, 2018 at 23:09
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    I'm struggling a bit with the paper's conclusion - "This increases the risk of disease transmission in highly vaccinated populations" - ummm.... a highly vaccinated population would have a lower rate of incidence, which would impact the overall rate and risk of transmission, so while I get the "if they are exposed...." part of it, the fact is that the chance of being exposed is going to be lower, I'd think. Nothing about the answer that needs altering, just something that struck me about that passage. Commented May 22, 2018 at 16:00

Natural vs "Artificial"

All vaccines contain the same components as a "natural" infection, immunologically speaking: either a virus (killed or weakened); or a weakened bacterial toxin (toxoid); or the antigen-bearing part of the virus/bacterium (subunit); or a poor antigen attached to a carrier protein (conjugate)1,2. This is because of the way the immune system works and because the purpose of a vaccine is to teach the body's own immune system to detect threats and hence eliminate them before they can lead to an infection.

Antibodies and lymphocytes are made by the body itself, and they are no different in nature to what it would produce in the event of an infection a) because the stimulus is the same (even in an infection, the immune system responds to the antigen, not the entire organism--antigens are how the body distinguishes between self and non-self); and b) because the immune system is limited in the type of cells and antibodies it can produce. It can only produce those according to the blueprints in our DNA and they are specific to the antigen, not the vehicle/entire organism.

Comparison of Immune Response

As mentioned above, the cells are the same, the antigens are the same. That means a lymphocyte specific for a particular antigen will live for the same duration of time and function in the same way, regardless of the mode by which the immune system was exposed to the antigen. This is how we develop long-term immunity, whether by infection or by vaccination.

However, during an infection there are significant numbers of actively replicating/reproducing viruses or bacteria and/or a much larger quantity of toxins in the system whereas vaccines inject smaller amounts of weaker/dead organisms or antigen-bearing substances. This advantage is the body can eliminate the antigen more quickly, safely, and effectively than it can during an infection. The disadvantage, particularly in case of vaccines with killed viruses, is that the antigens are gone from the system sooner and so relatively fewer memory cells are made. (Vaccines using live viruses induce a higher, longer lasting immune response because the antigens persist longer3.) Remember, each memory cell lasts just as long as it is naturally supposed to--there may simply be somewhat fewer of them than made during an infection. This is perfectly acceptable since the purpose of a vaccine is not to provoke a greater response to itself but to keep the immune system prepared to mount a greater and more effective/co-ordinated response to the actual threat, should the system ever come across it. This is like the difference between war and war games.

Transfer of Maternal Antibodies

Whatever the stimulus for their production, the body only makes 5 different classes of antibodies; and only 2 of these can be passed on from mother to child. The first, IgG, crosses the placental barrier while the child is in utero. These antibodies are responsible for the passive immunity that provides infants some protection up to 6-9 months of age. The other antibody, IgA, is naturally found in body secretions in varying quantities. There is a small amount of it present in breast milk, but it cannot be absorbed by the gut because human infants do not have a porous stomach lining.

Impact of Maternal Antibodies on Measles

Regarding measles in particular, the only information I could find was it has been noted that vaccination before passive immunity from maternal antibodies wears off (~6-9 months) may lead to the mother's antibodies inactivating the vaccine before it has a chance to induce an immune response in the virus.4 There was no mention of a difference in this interaction depending on whether the mother's immunity was the result of a vaccination or an infection (keeping in mind, of course, that there is no difference in the antibodies but there may be a slight difference in memory cell/antibody levels). Other than that, there is no noted interaction between maternal antibodies and vaccinations or indeed the actual measles virus after passive immunity wanes.

Further Reading/Sources:-

The Immune System and Vaccination | Immunisation Advisory Centre

Understanding How Vaccines Work (PDF) | CDC

Vaccine Immunology (PDF) | WHO

Vaccine Types | Vaccines.gov

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    While you provide general references, it is difficult to see where you get some of your claims. e.g. the key one: 'All vaccines contain the same components as a "natural" infection, immunologically speaking'. Is there not a serious risk (e.g. see flu and pertussis vaccines) that the disease has evolved and is different to the vaccine. [This is what I assume the original quote is referring to.]
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 3:49
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    Generally an answer has the citations within the answer as opposed to a summary at the end. Much like a Wikipedia page perhaps (just with a bit of a different format). Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 3:52
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    Agree with the other mods, you need to provide specific references and quotes.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 8:38
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    @codecharming this page might get you started; the basic recommendation is to use the formatting toolbar to add your hyperlink to a relevant part of the text. skeptics.stackexchange.com/help/formatting
    – user23048
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 4:43
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    The idea that a virus has "the antigen-bearing part" is misleading. A virus might have multiple antigen's and not all might be included in the vaccine.
    – Christian
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 11:05

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