A vaccine is a biological preparation that improves immunity to a particular disease. A vaccine typically contains an agent that resembles a disease-causing microorganism and is often made from weakened or killed forms of the microbe, its toxins or one of its surface proteins. The agent stimulates the body's immune system to recognize the agent as foreign, destroy it, and keep a record of it, so that the immune system can more easily recognize and destroy any of these microorganisms that it later encounters.
Vaccines can be prophylactic (example: to prevent or ameliorate the effects of a future infection by any natural or "wild" pathogen), or therapeutic (e.g., vaccines against cancer are also being investigated; see cancer vaccine).
The terms vaccine and vaccination are derived from Variolae vaccinae (smallpox of the cow), the term devised by Edward Jenner to denote cowpox. He used it in 1798 in the long title of his Inquiry into the...Variolae vaccinae...known...[as]...the Cow Pox, in which he described the protective effect of cowpox against smallpox.