The History of Vaccines

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The History of Vaccines

The history of vaccines goes back much farther than one might believe. Even with minimal technology scientists were still able to create effective treatments for many diseases through the scientific method. Scientists have had centuries to perfect the methods of vaccination. Stern and Markle assert that even in the past obstacles were in the way of successful and safe vaccines. To create these types of vaccines there needed to be enormous amounts of political skill and creativity (Stern and Markel, 2005). This essay shows the history of vaccines as well as modern skepticism surrounding vaccines while also showing the consequences of refusing vaccines. Edward Jenner, Louis Pasteur, Theobald Smith and his colleagues were able to lay the groundwork of how vaccines are used and created today.

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One of the most deadly diseases in the past has been smallpox. The symptoms include sudden nausea and vomiting, lower back pain, suddenly feeling cold, and fevers. Lesions form as the fever goes away in the first two to four days of the other symptoms appearing. These lesions turn into pustules and then evolve into scabs (L., 2013). The first vaccination ever performed, was done so by Edward Jenner in 1796. He was working with cowpox and smallpox. Jenner did a multitude of research on how cowpox and smallpox were related. Through his studies, he realized the milkmaids that get cowpox were not infected with smallpox. He used this observation as a basis for this early smallpox vaccine. Jenner took pus from a cowpox lesion and injected it into a boy that was only eight years old. He variolated more cowpox pus into the boy six weeks later. The boy did not show any symptoms of smallpox from the pus or by exposure to people who had been infected (Stern and Markel, 2005). Variolation was replaced by the word vaccination because vacca is the Latin word for cow. His work injecting animal matter into humans was not welcomed by many individuals. Jenner’s work moved from person to person in the beginning of the 1800s. The vaccine was injected from arm to arm. When the smallpox virus became immune to the vaccine Jenner then injected it into calves to strengthen the vaccine. There was almost a fifty percent decrease in smallpox in 1823 in England alone (L., 2013). People with high authority such as presidents and Kings hosted mass campaigns of vaccination. Due to their support, 100,000 people had received vaccinations by 1803. This is also when the vaccination for smallpox reached the U.S. colonies. With the spread of the vaccination, it became necessary to public health almost overnight (Stern and Markel, 2005).

Louis Pasteur observed that when certain bacteria cultures were exposed to chickens over a long period of time the chickens did not get sick. The process of exposing chickens to a bacteria over a period of time was then repeated with the same end result. This led him to the conclusion that if a living thing is exposed to a culture over a long period of time they will develop an immunity to it. This is what is used in vaccines today and his discovery lead to it. Pasteur used this knowledge to create a rabies vaccination by using the spinal cords of infected rabbits. This was first used on a man by the name of Joseph Meister. He did not show any rabies symptoms even after being bitten by an infected dog multiple times. This was yet another thing that was criticized by the common people. They did not like the idea of injecting possibly deadly substances into humans (L., 2013).

Salmonella enterica was a bacterium discovered by Theobald Smith; he hypothesized that this was the bacterium that causes hog cholera. Hog cholera was later found to be a viral infection so his hypothesis was incorrect. Daniel E. Salmon took credit for Smith’s discovery and named it after himself. Using dead bacteria for immunity was first proven by Smith in collaboration with Salmon. Texas cattle fever was Smith’s next project. It destroyed 90% of infected herds. Ticks were thought to be the cause of Texas cattle fever. This was hypothesized by cattle farmers and Smith decided to test it out for himself in collaboration with two veterinarians, Cooper Curtice, and Fred L. Kilbourne. Smith recognized that protozoa were on the infected cattle. Since primarily northern cattle were afflicted Smith and Kilbourne conduced experiment with southern and northern cattle. Both groups of cattle were placed in the same pin. The control group of cattle had the ticks left on them while the experimental group of cattle had the ticks taken off. The role of the ticks was established by these experiments as a carrier for Texas cattle disease. The experiments Curtice conducted resulted in the discovery that the infected ticks would pass the infection onto their larvae. Smith, Curtis, and Kilbourne were the first to discover insect-transmitted diseases (Schultz, 2008). Today, there are many effective vaccines that cure animal ailments caused by protozoa. Unfortunately, there are no effective vaccines for humans that treat infections caused by protozoa (McAllister, 2014). With all hope maybe someday these animals vaccines could be rewired to use on humans.

The history of whooping cough vaccine was a bumpy road. The first vaccine for whooping cough was created somewhere around the time of 1914 but was not used until 1949. It was created using whole cell dead Pertussis bacteria. The resulting vaccine, DPT,  was merged with the tetanus and diphtheria vaccine. Serious side effects, sometimes causing death, were seen with using whole-cell pertussis. In Great Britain, the side effects were published causing the vaccination rates to drop by fifty percent. This notion spread to Japan as they would not allow vaccines to include the Pertussis bacteria. An acellular pertussis vaccine was created in Japan, DTaP, which replaced the previous vaccine in 1981. This vaccine proved to be far less deadly than the one previously used and Japan did not see any outbreaks with DTaP’s use (What Is the History of Pertussis Vaccine Use in America?, n.d.).

    Measles is a disease caused by a virus; it spreads through the air which makes it very contagious. The symptoms include a rash of small red spots, red eyes, runny nose, and a cough. The rash typically starts at the head and disperses to other parts of the body (Measles Vaccination, 2016). At the beginning of measles vaccination in 1936, there were two vaccines being used. One vaccine had an inactive strain while the other strain was active. By 1967 the vaccine with the inactive strain was pulled from use due to ineffectiveness. By 1975 the vaccine with an active strain was pulled from use because it caused a high number of rashes and fevers. Merck licensed a vaccine that was a combination of rubella, mumps, and measles, MMR, in 1973 (What Is the History of Measles Vaccine in America, n.d.). Live strands of rubella, mumps, and measles are contained in the MMR vaccine (Vaccines and Preventable Diseases, 2018).

There was a hesitation to vaccine in the beginning and there is still hesitation today due to discredited research of vaccines causing autism. stated, Despite the fact that numerous studies have found no evidence to support the notion that vaccines cause autism and other chronic illnesses, a growing number of parents are refusing to vaccinate their children. The now discredited study was performed in 1997 by a British doctor by the name of Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield’s study was published in a British medical journal The Lancet (Vaccine Myths Debunked, n.d.). The study he published asserted that autism was caused by the measles, mumps, and rubella MMR vaccine. The rates of MMR vaccinations dropped drastically even though there was a very small sample size of only twelve individuals, no control group, and highly biased conclusions. Not long after his work was published, epidemiological studies fully refuted Wakefield’s study and the possible line between autism and the MMR vaccine (Rao and Andrade, 2011).

For those children who are not being vaccinated serious consequences could follow. Beata Mostafavi (2016), wrote about this topic in her article entitled New Study Emphasizes Harm of Vaccine Refusals. She writes that with measles being completely eradicated in the United States in 2000, people were shocked when 667 cases were reported in 2014. This was studied intensively and it was concluded that children not being vaccinated was the cause. He stated that national data supports huge spikes of measles and whooping cough outbreaks. Both of which have a vaccine tied to them for prevention. Over fifty percent of the measles outbreaks were in children who were not vaccinated. It is a tragedy when a child dies from a preventable disease (Mostafavi, 2016). A common myth used by parents who refuse vaccinations is that the only people at risk are themselves, as a parent, and the child. This is simply not true even if everyone else is vaccinated. Infants can only get vaccinations once they reach a certain age; this leaves infants at risk for diseases such as measles and whooping cough. This affects children even if the parents plan on fully vaccinating them. Whooping cough, in particular, was an issue for California in 2010. In this outbreak, ten infants died from something that could have been completely prevented. The DTaP vaccination does not begin to work until the third dose has been administered when the babies are six months old. A similar thing occurs with the MMR vaccine that protects against measles. Other people who are at risk include those with weak immune systems and cannot be vaccinated (Iannelli, 2018).

Jenner, Pasteur, Smith, and his colleagues helped to start the modern vaccination process. All of these men had obstacles to overcome and even when things did not work they would not stop trying. They did not do so without criticism; since the common people were unsure about injecting humans with foreign substances. This mentality is still here today as seen by the rising number of parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated. Even after having many centuries of continued research and vaccination some people continue to put themselves and the entire human race at risk.

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The History of Vaccines. (2019, Jul 31). Retrieved December 5, 2022 , from

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