Vaccines have been able to save countless lives from viruses that were once capable of wiping out entire cities. The idea of immunization has been around for hundred of years, but it did not begin being used on a large scale until the end of the 16th century. For example, Monks were known to drink small amounts of snake venom in order to reduce the effects experiences from a snake bite. There is currently a scientist, Tim Freide, who purposely accepts bites from deadly snakes in the hopes of assisting with vaccine development for snake venom. The idea of immunization is pretty simple. If the body is exposed to a weakened version of the foreign substance, such a venom or a virus, then the immune system has enough time to learn how to defend itself without being overwhelmed. Once the body knows how to deal with the threat, immunity has effectively been achieved. It is important to note though that inoculation looks drastically different than it did when it first gained popularity in the 1700s.
(Image from Smithsonian Magazine)
Edward Jenner is known as the founder of vaccinology after discovering that the body can build an immunity to small pox in 1796 (“A Brief”). He observed that milk maids who contracted cow pox were not affected with small pox. Going off of this observation, Jenner made a small cut in James Phipps’ arm and inserted a small amount of material collected from a cow pox pustule that had opened (Stern). A few weeks later he variolated two spots of the teen boy’s arm with small pox and observed that there was no reaction (Stern). Jenner’s discovery led to a heightened interest in inoculation and immunology, and governments began investing in their development. Immunizations are considered to be one of the largest impacting medical achievements of our century and the results of their use are inarguable. Child mortality rates were sky-high a century ago and now most children are expected to live into full adulthood (Stern).
Before the invention of the disposable needle in the 1960s, needles were sterilized after each use, were much thicker, and required frequent sharpening (“History”). Today, needles are thinner and sharper than ever before and are disposed of after each use. By the late 1960s it was recommended that children be vaccinated for small pox, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, and rubella. The founding of the World Health Organization played a large role in the introduction of vaccines on a global scale and their efforts have helped millions of families worldwide.
Some of the major challenges that vaccines faced, and continue to face today include manufacturing concerns, public fear, and the overall welfare of the general public. In recent years, media outlets have reported that many families are now choosing not to vaccinate their children for a plethora of reasons. Some of the main arguments involve fear due to a lack of understanding in how vaccines work, the belief that they can cause developmental problems, are thought to go against personal faiths, or that they are ineffective against viruses. Unfortunately, this mindset has resulted in many children contracting and suffering from illnesses that were once a problem of the past.
Although shots can be unpleasant, they allow us to sidestep deadly illnesses. Edward Jenner’s rather simple observation drastically altered the way that we looked at viruses and how we can prevent them from impacting us. Connecting this topic to current events, the Covid-19 crisis has sparked a nationwide conversation about the prospect of a future vaccination.
If that didn’t make you thankful for modern medicine then I don’t know what will!
- “A Brief History of vaccination.” The Immunisation Advisory Center. January, 2020. Accessed 5 august, 2020. Immune.org.nz/vaccines/vaccine-development/brief-history-vaccination.
- “History of Vaccines.” Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Accessed 7 august, 2020. Amhistory.si.edu/polio/virusvaccine/history2.htm.
- Stern, Alexandra Minna and Howard Markel. “The Hsitory of Vaccines and Immunization: Familiar Patterns, New Challenges.” Health Affairs. Spring 2005. Accessed 5 august, 2020. healthaffairs.org/doi/full/10.1377/h/thaff.24.3.611.