The History of Vaccinations
Written by Shivani Kumar l Originally published May 10, 2020
Vaccines have been one of the most successful remedies for our society’s public health because of its ability to eliminate the outbreak of many deadly viruses and infectious diseases. The vaccine trains the immune system to recognize and combat pathogens by introducing certain molecules from the pathogen so the body can trigger an immune response. So how exactly did vaccines originate and how did they develop into the vaccinations we use today?
The practice of immunization started as early as 1000 CE when the variolation technique, the smearing of a skin tear with cowpox to ensure immunity to smallpox, was practiced originally in China and was adopted by other countries such as Turkey and New Britain. Buddhist monks at the time even drank snake venom to confer the immunity to a snake bite.
Centuries later, Edward Jenner, known as the founder of immunology, had developed the first widespread smallpox vaccination. His discovery was heavily influenced by the local customs of farming communities and milkmaids getting infected with cowpox, so he inoculated a small boy with cowpox material in 1796 to make the vaccine. With medical and technological changes, smallpox was eradicated 200 years later.
Then, in 1885, Louis Pasteur made a vaccine to successfully prevent rabies. Even though what Pasteur produced was only a rabies antitoxin that served as a post-infection antidote because of the long incubation period of the rabies germ, he expanded the term “vaccine” beyond its Latin association with cows and cowpox to include all inoculating agents. Pasteur’s experiments paved the way for the development of the live cholera vaccine and inactivated anthrax vaccine in humans in later decades.
In 1923, Alexander Glenny perfected a method to inactivate tetanus with a gas called formaldehyde and this method was used to develop a vaccine for diphtheria and pertussis shortly after this discovery. Also in the mid-20th century, viral tissue culture methods were developed which helped with the creation of a polio vaccine from Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin. The polio vaccine has saved children all over the world from the disease that left children on wheelchairs or crutches for life and by 1991, polio was officially eliminated from the United States and Western Hemisphere.
Over the course of the last two decades, the application of molecular genetics has been major to vaccinology. This method has increased its insights into immunology, microbiology, and genomics with the technology present. It has helped with the development of vaccines for tuberculosis, streptococcal disease, pandemic influenza, HIV, and many other conditions.
With all the recombinant DNA technology and new delivery techniques present, innovative techniques can be used to drive scientists to new directions with vaccinations. The disease targets have expanded and scientists are taking advantage of molecular genetics to help make therapeutic vaccines for allergies, autoimmune diseases, and additions available in the future.
Vaccinations have been beneficial in unimaginable ways and will continue to be useful in society to combat many current-day medical issues in the healthcare field such as the pandemic we are amongst during this time.
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