Five facts about vaccines
1. The first vaccine was developed
in 1796 by Edward Jenner and it protected against smallpox. Jenner had observed that those who had been infected with cowpox were immune to smallpox, so in May 1796 he used matter from a milkmaid’s cowpox sore to inoculate an eight-year-old boy named James Phillips. Phillips reportedly felt ill for a few days but then made a complete recovery. In July, Jenner inoculated Phillips with matter from a smallpox sore and Phillips did not become ill. The term ‘vaccine’ therefore comes from the Latin for cow,
2. The first effective polio vaccine
was developed between 1952 and 1955 by Jonas Salk. In 1953, Salk tested the vaccine on himself and his family and then the following year, in 1954, mass trials involving over 1.3 million children took place. In 1960, a second polio vaccine was developed by Albert Sabin – this was a live-attenuated vaccine and could be given orally, either on a sugar cube or as drops. It was first tested and produced in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, with Czechoslovakia becoming the first country to eradicate polio.
3. In 1998, Andrew Wakefield
and a group of colleagues published a report in The Lancet, claiming that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine given to young children caused autism, despite the fact that there was, and still is, no scientific or medical evidence of this. The Lancet has since revoked Wakefield’s paper, however many believe that his theories have added fuel to the fire of the anti-vaccination movement.
4. During the COVID-19 pandemic
vaccines were researched and developed at speeds that far exceeded recognised time frames. The first cases of COVID-19 were reported at the end of 2019, and the first doses of the first vaccine were administered only a year later in December 2020. Some of the COVID-19 vaccines utilised new mRNA technology. However, WHO has recorded that as, of July 2021, almost 85% of COVID-19 vaccines had been given in high- and upper-middle-income countries.
5. As of 2019, WHO estimated
that immunisation has prevented 4-5 million deaths per year. This covers all age groups that have been protected from diseases including diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), influenza and measles. However, it is also estimated that a further 1.5 million deaths could be avoided if global vaccination coverage were improved.