Vaccines. They are a subject we are all familiar with after living through a pandemic, but did you know that the practice of vaccinating populations against viral threats has been practiced for centuries? In modern medicine, some vaccines have been created and distributed in months (as we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic), while others have taken over 40 years to develop.
Each April, World Immunization Week aims to raise awareness about the effectiveness of vaccines and their important role in a healthy global society. This year’s theme “ Long Life For All” serves as a reminder of that outcome. That vaccines enable people to provide for themselves and their families and to live a long and healthy life.
While there has been controversy around the topic over the past few years, the innovation and scientific breakthroughs which created these therapies cannot be denied.
Let’s dive into the history and impact of vaccines.
10 things you might not know about the history of vaccines
- The earliest practice of inoculation comes from Buddhist monks in China in the 16th century. Not only would they drink snake venom to protect against snake bites, but they also practiced variolation, where they would put cowpox into a small incision to confer immunity for smallpox.
- Edward Jenner is credited with founding the field of vaccinology after he successfully inoculated a 13-year-old boy against smallpox in 1796.
- The first smallpox vaccine was developed in 1798. Over the next 200 years a systematic, global immunization effort led to the eradication of the disease in 1979.
- In the 19th century, Louis Pasteur proved that microorganisms cause disease and that vaccines could be made from their weakened microbes. This led him to create vaccines for anthrax and fowl cholera.
- The practice of using weakened viruses to create vaccines has been phenomenally successful. The measles vaccine uses this method and has saved over 17 million lives since the year 2000 alone.
- The BCG vaccine, which protects against tuberculosis was invented as recently as 1921 and is the most widely used vaccine in the world!
- Globally, vaccines have reduced measles deaths by 78% between 2000 and 2008, and by 92% in sub-Saharan Africa.
- The vaccine for bacterial meningitis was developed in 1988. Since its release, cases have dropped by 99%.
- The first mRNA vaccine (the type of vaccine used in the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 shots) was first tested in the 1990s. In the 21st century, this technology has been used in clinical trials for vaccines against cancer, Zika virus, HIV, and even use cases for veterinary diseases have been published.
- Moderna was founded 10 years ago specifically to develop mRNA-based vaccines and therapies. In fact, the name Moderna comes from combining the words “modified” and “RNA”.
Looking forward: vaccines for global health
Thanks in part to vaccines like these, and the scientists who created them, we now have a way to prevent more than 20 life-threatening diseases, saving between 3.5 – 5 million lives every year. Vaccines remain one of the most cost-effective and successful ways of preventing disease around the world, ensuring future generations will have a brighter, healthier future.
If your practice or community could use a tool to help prepare and educate patients and staff for upcoming vaccinations or clinics, extend your reach and impact with digital communication tools.