How Do Live Viral Vaccines Work?

Reviewed on 12/27/2021

How do live viral vaccines work?

Live viral vaccines are biological products that provide immunity against certain viral infections. Live viral vaccines stimulate the body’s immune system to produce antibodies against specific types of viruses and protect a person from diseases caused by these viruses.

Live viral vaccines are weakened (attenuated) forms of disease-causing viruses. Live viral vaccines produce a strong and often life-long immunity similar to that acquired from a natural infection, but without subjecting the person to the disease and its complications, because they only contain a small amount of the weakened viruses.

Live viral vaccines are derived by weakening the disease-causing viruses in laboratories, usually with repeated culturing. Live viral vaccines must be stored and handled with care because they are fragile and can be damaged by heat and light.

Live viral vaccines may not be safe for individuals with compromised immunity. People with weakened immune systems should consult with their health care providers before receiving live viral vaccines, because they may cause severe infections that their weakened immune systems may not be able to control.

Live viral vaccines approved by the FDA provide immunity against the following viral diseases:


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How are live viral vaccines used?

Live viral vaccines are administered as single or a series of one-time doses, except in the case of the influenza virus vaccine which is administered annually before the flu season. Live viral vaccines may be administered through the following routes:

Live viral vaccines approved by the FDA include:

  • Adenovirus type 4 and type 7 vaccine for individuals of ages 17-50 years
  • Dengue virus vaccine for children of ages 9-16 years with laboratory-confirmed previous dengue infection and living in endemic areas
  • Ebola Zaire vaccine for adults
  • Influenza intranasal vaccine for individuals of ages 2-49
  • Measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine for routine immunization in children and adults, and immunization for pregnant women without evidence of immunity, after termination or completion of pregnancy
  • Measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella vaccine for children of ages 12 months to 12 years
  • Rotavirus oral vaccine for prophylaxis in infants of ages 6-32 weeks
  • Smallpox vaccine, now no longer routinely administered since smallpox has been eradicated in the world
  • Smallpox and monkeypox vaccine for adults who are at high risk for smallpox or monkeypox infection
  • Varicella virus vaccine for individuals of age 12 months and older
  • Yellow fever vaccine for individuals 9 months and older who live in or travel to yellow fever endemic areas, and laboratory personnel at risk for exposure

What are side effects of live viral vaccines?

Side effects of live viral vaccines may include the following:

Information contained herein is not intended to cover all possible side effects, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure these drugs do not cause any harm when you take them along with other medicines. Never stop taking your medication and never change your dose or frequency without consulting your doctor.

What are names of live viral vaccines?

Generic and brand names of live viral vaccines include:

  • ACAM2000
  • adenovirus types 4 and 7 live, oral
  • dengue vaccine
  • Dengvaxia
  • Ebola Zaire vaccine
  • Ervebo
  • FluMist Quadrivalent
  • influenza virus vaccine quadrivalent, intranasal
  • Jynneos
  • M-M-R-II
  • measles mumps and rubella vaccine, live
  • measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella vaccine, live
  • MMRV
  • ProQuad
  • Rotarix
  • RotaTeq
  • rotavirus oral vaccine, live
  • smallpox (vaccinia) and monkeypox vaccine, live, nonreplicating
  • smallpox (vaccinia) vaccine, live
  • varicella virus vaccine live
  • Varivax
  • yellow fever vaccine
  • YF Vax
  • Zostavax (DSC) - discontinued
  • zoster vaccine live (discontinued)


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