Everything meaningful has an origin, whether it’s a great work of literature, a memorable experience, or a scientific advancement. Vaccines fall within that last category and stand out as one of the most significant and course-altering developments of mankind. Every step along the vast vaccine timeline is an important one, from the very first evidence of inoculations over 1,000 years ago to the creation of modern-day innovations. Let’s take a look at the journey that life-saving vaccines have made.
There are several sources that cite smallpox inoculations occurring in China and India; a few even date as far back as 200 C.E.! Emperors throughout the 1500 and 1600s — several hundred years before Edward Jenner would discover the arm-to-arm technique — frequently inoculated themselves and their children against smallpox, although in much less palatable ways: smallpox scabs were ground up and inhaled through the nostril.
Vaccines entered the West through Edward Jenner’s breakthrough. As a doctor living during a smallpox epidemic, Jenner took a leap of faith in the name of science and used the material from an infected milkmaid’s arm to inoculate an eight-year-old boy. This arm-to-arm technique would revolutionize the way the world understood infectious diseases.
It is said that if Jenner invented vaccination, Louis Pasteur invented vaccines. Having made great advances in the attenuation (weakening) process of viruses, Pasteur created the rabies vaccine.
Pasteur’s developments allowed progress to made exceptionally fast. By the early to mid-1900s, antitoxins against a slew of dangerous diseases were created: diphtheria, tetanus, anthrax, cholera, plague, typhoid, and tuberculosis to name a few.
Having detected the classic symptoms for mumps in his five-year-old daughter just four years earlier, Dr. Maurice Hilleman invents the mumps vaccine. Dr. Hilleman is credited as the most successful vaccinologist in history as he would go on to develop over 20 vaccines, including nine of the 14 that are currently recommended for all children.
Science does not sleep. Even after having eradicated a number of the most deadly and crippling diseases in human history, new advancements — involving things like recombinant DNA technology and innovative delivery techniques — continue to safeguard the lives of everyone on this planet.