Brief History Of Vaccines

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If you are a parent, then the term ‘vaccine’ is a very familiar one to you. Because right from your pregnancy till your ward goes right into the teens; you have already heard of and invested in more than a dozen vaccines to ensure that your child is hale and healthy. Vaccines are the wonder “potion” that come with its share of fever and distress, but is like a necessary evil that ensures your child stays healthy!

And with the world discovering new ailments, bacteria and viruses everyday; vaccines are no longer limited to little kids or growing up years alone. There seems to be a vaccine for every possible disease – from the common flu to the rare meningitis! And yes! Despite their best efforts, the world of medicine is still grappling when it comes to finding vaccines for some deadly diseases!!

In the beginning, they were called variolation…

The predecessor of today’s vaccines is believed to have originated in China and went by the name of variolation. This is considered as a primitive form that eventually laid the foundation for the concept of vaccination. It is believed to have been used since the 10th century and became highly prevalent from the 14th to the 17th century. It was originally designed to protect people from smallpox; and to accomplish this, healthy people were exposed to tissues from the scabs of the disease.

There are also other similar practices that were being practiced before or during this period. Buddhist monks consumed snake venom, in limited doses, to gain immunity from snake bites!

The modern version of variolation…The Vaccine!

Eventually, the practice of variolation spread to other parts of the world and finally reached Europe as well. And it gained prominence during the 18th century, when smallpox gained epidemic proportions and was beginning to wipe out entire populations. Although variolation caused minor health distress, and in some rare cases even death; overall, it was able to control the spread of the disease and was looked at as a means to escape the epidemic.

Slowly, this unorganized method reached a more disciplined form and thus was born the first vaccination. In 1796, thanks to the efforts of Dr Edward Jenner, the scientific community finally came to agree upon the concept of vaccination as a means to prevent the spread of deadly diseases. The result was the formation of the Royal Jennerian Institute, support in the form of government funds, and the popularity of vaccination that spread to the US as well.

The first of many vaccines…The Rabies vaccine

On one side the popularity of vaccines grew; on the other some people began opposing the concept of compulsory vaccination as a violation of civil rights! And while the moral and civil justifications of making vaccines compulsory continued on one side, the medical community was discovering more and more vaccines with the developments in the science of immunology.

One person who began to make a huge impact in the world of vaccines was Louis Pasteur. He was behind the development of many vaccines, including the attenuated cholera vaccine, the inactivated anthrax vaccine, and also the Plague vaccine. He is also credited with the development of the Rabies vaccine. The developments between 1890 and 1950 led to the development of the BCG vaccine that is being used even today!

Another person who is noted for his contributions to the development of vaccines is Alexander Glenny. He perfected the method of the inactivated tetanus toxin in 1923 and a similar technique was used in the development of the diphtheria vaccine and the Pertussis vaccine.

Further developments and research led to the development of the Salk or inactivated polio vaccine and the live attenuated oral vaccine for Polio, also known as Sabine. Rigorous and mass polio immunization drives followed resulting in the eradication of Polio in most countries of the world.

Future of vaccinology

Developments in the field of molecular genetics have made a huge impact in the field of vaccinology. Besides development of better vaccines, it has also changed the way in which vaccines are delivered and is heading towards the development of therapeutic vaccines.

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