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2021 Word of the Year: Vaccine

A word so ubiquitous in 2021 that Merriam-Webster had to re-define it.

Vaccine syringes being filled at a Seqirus fill & finish facility
Vaccine syringes being filled at a Seqirus fill & finish facility.

What is a vaccine? When should I get the vaccine? Which vaccine should I get?

People everywhere were asking these questions, curious about the word and its definition. Vaccines were the talk of the town; so much so that Merriam-Webster Dictionary found that since late 2019, interest in the word increased by 1048% as people were in lockdown searching the internet for a way out of the pandemic.

Humanity was scared, confused and uncertain as this was the first time that many experienced a pandemic like this and heard mRNA being discussed. Therefore, in May of 2020 the prominent dictionary publisher realized that their definition was out of date and needed a bit more clarity, which formerly read:

“A preparation of killed microorganisms, living attenuated organisms, or living fully virulent organisms that is administered to produce or artificially increase immunity to a particular disease.”

Today, if you were to search the definition of a vaccine on their site, you would find an expanded definition that sheds a bit more light on the subject, which now reads as:

1: a preparation that is administered (as by injection) to stimulate the body's immune response against a specific infectious agent or disease.

a: an antigenic preparation of a typically inactivated or attenuated pathogenic agent (such as a bacterium or virus) or one of its components or products (such as a protein or toxin).

b: a preparation of genetic material (such as a strand of synthesized messenger RNA) that is used by the cells of the body to produce an antigenic substance (such as a fragment of virus spike protein).

To learn more about the word ‘vaccine’, as well as some interesting statistics, its origin and Merriam-Webster’s runners-up for word of the year, click here