- Isabelle Nichol
Vaccinations, from the Beginning to Now
By: Isabelle Nichol, Contributing Writer
Edited by: Fauzia Haque, Editor; Elias Azizi, Editor in Chief
Since the beginning of time, humans have sought ways to prolong lifespans and eliminate diseases. Many different methods have been used, from herbs to modern-day solutions, such as vaccines and surgeries. Due to the constant innovations involved in scientific, and more specifically, medical fields, people often forget how much we’ve advanced as a society. Especially, within the last 200 years. We’ve come far enough that scientists can create a ‘formula’ to teach cells how to fight off illnesses, isn’t that crazy?
Within the past 250 years, there’s been a remarkable amount of innovation taking place. The history of vaccines is a great showcase to demonstrate the improvements over time.
One of the first successful vaccinations recorded took place in 1796, introduced by Edward Jenner mid-smallpox pandemic. He noticed a significant trend. Anyone who caught cowpox had immunity, and they tended to avoid catching smallpox when it became an issue, globally. This trend was especially significant among milkmaids, as this is where it was first noticed. Jenner tested his theory by then using cowpox matter to vaccinate an 8-year-old named James Phipps. Despite experiencing a variety of symptoms related to his inoculation, Phipps completely recovered within a couple of days.
Following this huge step, a couple of months after Phipps’ recovery, Jenner exposed him to smallpox matter to test the efficiency of his vaccine. Miraculously, James Phipps remained in perfect health, proving Jenner’s theory on immunity.
Due to Edward Jenner’s observations, medical science has evolved exponentially from that point onward. Other illnesses such as fowl cholera (in chickens) and rabies were approached with similar methods after this discovery. Rabies however created a bit of a controversy, the concept of inoculating humans was quite new at the time. The man working on it wasn’t even a doctor, and it took many, many attempts to get the correct formula. Eventually, this method did in fact work, and the patient ultimately survived.
One of the first attempts at global vaccination came about when the Spanish Flu reared its head 100 years ago. The illness killed tens of millions of people within a year. The pandemic did eventually slow down, although it took decades to create a vaccine in hopes of eradicating it.
There are a couple of other major illnesses that have sparked innovation in the field. Some examples would be yellow fever and whooping cough, in the thirties. The whooping cough vaccine specifically, dramatically reduced infection rates from 15.1 children per 100, to 2.3 per 100. Another notable achievement, one of the scientists who created the yellow fever vaccine was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize after the FDA approved said vaccine.
This brings us to one of the most recent examples of developments in vaccine technology, the COVID-19 vaccinations. The previous assumption about inoculations is that they require the patient to be injected with a much weaker version of the illness, so the body can learn how to fight it off in a low-stakes situation. mRNA technology operates with different methods. It gives the patient’s body instructions so that they can learn how to construct proteins that can fight off the illness in question.
The most well-known use of this technology is the recent COVID-19 pandemic, affecting millions of people globally. Scientists worldwide rushed to invent vaccines that can both lessen the chances of catching the virus, as well as lower the odds of experiencing uncomfortable symptoms if someone is infected. For the standard person, this may be the first time they’ve heard of mRNA.
Granted, there isn’t enough known to comfortably say that mRNA can eliminate a large chunk of diseases worldwide. In the past, research has been conducted to test its efficiency with other viruses and/or illnesses such as, surprisingly enough, cancer.
The actual process however can be simplified into three phases, if you will, after creating a ‘prototype’. Once scientists fabricate an acceptable product, they then start phase one. Phase one involves small sample groups to test both efficiency and safety before expanding the sample groups. The main purpose here is to ensure the vaccines work, without causing issues for the patients. Assuming that they pass the tests, the scientists move on to phase two. In this next stage, the focus is on testing doses, as well as adjusting accordingly based on the immune responses triggered by these tests. The third, and final phase is more of a safety net, the vaccine is tested on a large sample group, often consisting of thousands of individuals. The purpose is to ensure that there are not any issues missed within the first two testing phases.
To conclude, these inoculations have been tested extensively, and the chances of any complications arising are incredibly slim. Most medical professionals heavily recommend getting all possible vaccinations, to lessen the risk of infections, both for yourself and those around you. Although reactions could happen, there are precautionary measures in place post-vaccination to ensure nothing harmful occurs. The professionals running clinics are prepared to help in any situation.
“A Brief History of Vaccination.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/news-room/spotlight/history-of-vaccination/a-brief-history-of-vaccination.
Coon, Lisa. “The History of Vaccines and How They're Developed.” OSF HealthCare Blog, 11 Feb. 2022, https://www.osfhealthcare.org/blog/the-history-of-vaccines-and-how-theyre-developed/.
“Smallpox Vaccines.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 31 May 2016, https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/smallpox-vaccines.
“Understanding How Covid-19 Vaccines Work.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines/how-they-work.html#:~:text=Instead%2C%20mRNA%20vaccines%20use%20mRNA,that%20germ%20in%20the%20future.