Common knowledge of vaccines puts their origin with Edward Jenner in 1796, who developed the “arm-to-arm” technique to inoculate populations against smallpox. Surprisingly, this is not the first mention of their use.
In the Very Beginning…
Historic evidence suggests that the Chinese had been employing inoculation (or variolation, as they called it) against the smallpox virus as early as 1000 CE, far sooner than Jenner’s experiment. Their technique was used in Africa and Turkey before it spread to Europe. Despite these breakthroughs in the East, Edward “The Father of Immunology” Jenner’s scientific discovery was the major tipping point for the West.
On the Importance of Cows
Jenner noticed that milkmaids who worked with cows infected with a weaker strain of smallpox (called cowpox) did not seem to get sick. He surmised that their constant exposure had allowed their body to build up an immune response to the deadlier smallpox. He tested his theory — that a weaker form of the virus could be exposed to the human body to help build a resistance to the stronger, more devastating form — on a young boy by taking pus from a cowpox pustule and spreading it on a small cut on the boy’s arm. The experiment was a success and he named his invention after the Latin word for cow, “vacca.”
A World of Inoculations
Today, vaccines prevent around 2.5 million deaths in the U.S. each year. The care and storage of these life-saving medicines is vital due to their importance. Many vaccines have specific temperature requirements, and need either a pharmaceutical refrigerator or medical grade freezers. If the temperature raises or lowers too much within a specific margin, vaccines can break down and become ineffective, so the maintenance and upkeep of these pharmaceutical refrigerators and laboratory freezers must be handled delicately. Scientific freezers and lab refrigerators are also used to store medicines for simple uses as well, such as amoxicillin, a common antibiotic.
Thanks to Edward Jenner and the multitude of people that came both before and after him, the entire world has the ability to protect itself from unnecessary illness and death. Unfortunately, some regions have extremely limited access to these technologies. Hopefully, more inexpensive and easily accessible versions of the vital vaccines will become available in the near future — if Edward Jenner could accomplish what he’d done in the late 1700’s, there’s no telling where we can go now.