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Healthy Living

How It All Began

History of Vaccines

Even before the world of microorganisms was discovered and before diseases were associated with microorganisms, many societies had made one observation: if a person was down with a disease and survived, he was less likely to catch it again. The Chinese tried to prevent smallpox by exposing healthy individuals to extract from lesions of smallpox patients. This process is called variolation. There are many forms of variolation.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of the British Ambassador to Turkey, observed one of these processes in the early 18th century and brought this idea to England. Though this did not produce uniform success, variolated groups showed less incidence of smallpox. One of the children who underwent variolation was Edward Jenner who grew up to be a country doctor in England.

Jenner studied the relationship between a disease called 'grease' in horses and cowpox, an infection similar to but not as deadly as smallpox, in cows. One milkmaid told him that she was not afraid of contracting smallpox because she had already suffered cowpox. Jenner thought about it, and made a daring experiment, an act that would be completely unacceptable today. He infected a boy with the cowpox lesion extract. When the boy recovered from this mild disease, he infected him with pus from a smallpox blister. The boy did not contract smallpox. This was in 1796. But it took some years for the medical community to accept Jenner's finding.

Important Milestones

1796 - First vaccination. Jenner tests for smallpox resistance.

1883 - Vaccination for children against rabies

1892- Cholera vaccine

1913 - Toxoid, Antitoxin immunization against diphtheria

1921 - BCG vaccine

1923 - Diphtheria Toxoid

1923 - Pertussis vaccine

1927 - Tetanus Toxoid

1937 - Influenza vaccine

1937 - Yellow Fever vaccine

1949 - Mumps vaccine

1954 - Salk's Polio vaccine

1957 - Sabin's Oral Polio vaccine

1960 - Measles vaccine

1962 - Rubella vaccine

1968 - Type C Meningococcus vaccine

1970 - Researchers in Israel proved that injection of a peptide from a virus or disease can induce the production of antibodies that recognise the entire virus or disease

1971 - Type A Meningococcus vaccine

1980 - First commercial vaccine for Hepatitis B

1982 - First vaccine produced through genetic engineering (vaccines for diarrhoea in pigs)

1982 - First synthetic vaccine created at Institute Pasteur and at Weizmann Institute from diphtheria toxin.

Diseases that Vaccines can Prevent or Treat

Today, vaccines can prevent the following diseases:

  • Cholera
  • Diphtheria
  • Haemophilus Influenzae type B (HIB)
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Influenza
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Polio
  • Pertussis (Whooping Cough)
  • Rabies
  • Rubella (German Measles)
  • Smallpox
  • Tetanus
  • Typhoid
  • Varicella (Chicken Pox)
  • Yellow Fever

New vaccines are being developed all the time. Each country advises its citizens to follow a particular immunization programme, devised after studying the incidence of diseases within the country.


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