Vaccines Throughout History


The vaccination process has obviously come a long way, so let’s take a moment to stroll back in time and learn about vaccines throughout history.  

Photo from the CDC on Unsplash

Over the last few years, there has been much discussion surrounding vaccinations, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. With many boasting selfies with their filled-out vaccination cards and proudly bearing side-effects, and new medications being developed in record time, it is easy to forget that immunization has been a prominent discussion for thousands of years. The vaccination process has obviously come a long way, so let’s take a moment to stroll back in time and learn about vaccines throughout history.

Early Forms of Immunization

Though the exact date is unknown due to varying reports, some sources claim that inoculation started as early as 200 BCE in China. Most reports of these early inoculations, however, come from the 1500s and 1600s in China, in which smallpox scabs would either be ground to a powder and snorted up the nose or matter from within smallpox sores would be rubbed into deep scratches made in a patient’s skin.

Vaccination in Europe and the Americas

By 1796, Edward Jenner had begun testing a similar process in Europe. Jenner studied arm-to-arm inoculation, which consisted of taking one blister from one individual infected with cowpox and implanting it in the skin of another. Shortly after, this process spread to the young United States. Those undergoing this arm-to-arm inoculation process could expect three weeks of devastating side-effects. However trying these weeks of fever, chills, and expelling bodily fluids of all sorts were, they were seen as a welcome alternative to death by smallpox.

This process largely remained the height of vaccination progress until the late 1840s, when general scientific knowledge had advanced enough to accommodate more scientific vaccine production measures. After the founding of the smallpox vaccine, scientists around the globe rapidly began finding new solutions to long-standing illnesses.

Vaccines in the 21st Century

Most traditional vaccines still mimic this arm-to-arm inoculation process, albeit in a less unpleasant manner. By injecting the body with either a weakened form of a disease or an imitation disease, the body’s immune system and natural defenses kick in and learn how to effectively attack these foreign particles. Then, when the real deal enters the body, the immune system already knows how to identify and attack the disease and can better fight it off.

The newest vaccine, which helps fight against COVID-19, is the first of its kind: an mRNA vaccine. While the Johnson & Johnson vaccine follows traditional methods, both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccinations teach the body’s defenses to create, recognize, and destroy a replica of the protein found on COVID-19 molecules’ spikes. Many scientists believe that we will begin to see more of these revolutionary mRNA vaccines in the future.

Discovery Dates of Key Vaccines Throughout History:

1796 – Cowpox

1880 – Cholera

1885 – Rabies

1897 – Bubonic Plague

1899 – Typhoid

1911 – Cholera

1914 – Diphtheria

1921 – Tuberculosis

1924 – Tetanus

1924 – Scarlet Fever

1926 – Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

1932 – Yellow Fever

1937 – Typhus

1937 – Influenza (Flu)

1954 – Anthrax

1955 – Polio

1963 – Measles

1967 – Mumps

1969 – Rubella

1977 – Pneumonia

1978 – Meningitis

1981 – Hepatitis B

1984 – Chicken Pox

1989 – Q Fever

1990 – Hantavirus Hemorrhagic Fever with Renal Syndrome

1991 – Hepatitis A

1998 – Lyme Disease

1998 – Rotavirus

2006 – Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

2012 – Hepatitis E

2015 – Enterovirus 71

2015 – Malaria

2019 – Ebola

2020 – COVID-19

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We hope this information on vaccines throughout history is helpful.

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About Macee Hall

Originally from the snow-capped Rockies, Macee moved to Texas in 2016 to pursue an undergraduate degree in Strategic Communication. She currently serves as a writer and editor for Empower Brokerage, as well as the marketing manager for Preferred Senior Advisors. Macee is also working on her Master’s degree in management, and hopes to inspire others with her passion for telling stories through varied digital and print marketing efforts.

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