Vaccines are so commonplace today that we sometimes forget the awesomeness that is immunization. Fear not, we are going to give you the lowdown on the history of vaccines.
Most of us think about vaccines as a 20th Century science but it’s been around for thousands of years. Did you know that variolation was recorded as early as the 11th Century in China? The Egyptians were using variolation to protect people by the 13th Century and West and North Africa started using variolation in the 17th Century.
Immunization, as we know it, is more than 100 years old. Louis Pastuer, the grandfather of microbiology, also created the very first lab-produced vaccine – in 1879! It was a vaccine to prevent a disease called chicken cholera.
But it was Edward Jenner who really advanced how we thought about vaccines. Jenner realized that exposure to cowpox (a virus similar smallpox but not serious) could protect someone from getting smallpox. During Jenner’s
time smallpox killed 10-20% of the population.
Gross But True!
Variolation used a small pox scab from an infected person to help protect others from small pox. This was the earliest form of immunization. Thankfully, immunization has evolved. Today’s vaccines are much safer and more effective than variolation.
Successes that rocked our world!
Almost 150 years after Jenner’s discovery, vaccines have changed the world as we know it including:
- Eradicating smallpox from the face of the earth.
Smallpox was killing people as early as 1100 BCE and remained a frightening and deadly disease for more than 3 thousand years. In the 100 years before it was eradicated, it is estimated that smallpox killed half a billion people. Thanks to the smallpox vaccine, smallpox pox is no longer a threat.
- Decreasing the number of children who die before their 5th birthday.
In 2015 Researchers looked at 149 national level health surveys that included 1 million children from 62 countries to see if vaccines reduced childhood death. What they found is one of the strongest cases for vaccines: when the children in a community are fully vaccinated, that community has a 24% decrease in deaths in children under 5 years old.
- Preventing deadly diseases, EVEN cancer!
We often talk about the advances that medicine has made in treating cancer but what about preventing it altogether? Did you know that there are vaccines to do just that? The HPV vaccine targets high-risk human papillomavirus strains that are responsible for almost all cervical cancers and linked to some throat, anal, and other cancers. Hepatitis B vaccines help prevent infections that lead to liver cancer.
Some parents are reluctant to give their child a vaccine for a sexually transmitted infection so young. But the vaccine works best when given before someone is sexually active, specifically between 11 – 13 years old.
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