V-v-v-vaccines! Part 2

Hello everyone! I thought this week would be a good opportunity to expand upon the importance of vaccines as a follow up to V-v-v-vaccines! Part 1:Flu from last week, which discussed the seasonal flu vaccine. Today, we are going to take a look at the development of vaccines and why they are such an important component of public health.

Infectious diseases have always had an impact on human life, particularly since the development of cities and townships, which provided close quarters and more human to human (or human to animal) contact, allowing diseases to spread easily. In fact, it is believed that almost 30% of children died before reaching 15 years old in the 1500s. These deaths can largely be contributed to the effects of infectious disease. Additionally, if you can recall back to your highschool history class, you probably learned that European settlers brought new diseases to the Americas that devistated the native population. Things like smallpox, whooping cough, chicken pox and the bubonic plague ravaged native peoples who had never been exposed to these illnesses before. In fact, it is believed that a whopping 80-95% of the native population perished to disease.

Deaths due to infectious disease lessened after the discovery and use of vaccines. Dr.Edward Jenner developed the first vaccine in 1796. He used material from cowpox lesions to innoculate people. The cowpox virus was similar enough to smallpox to confir immunity to the smallpox virus. Thus, people who were vaccinated against smallpox using Dr.Jenner’s cowpox vaccine did not become infected with smallpox. This was a huge medical development since smallpox had appeared around 10,000 BC and had been causing devastating disease outbreaks since that time. The development of the smallpox vaccine changed the course of human development and ultimately the path of public health and medicine. The use of the smallpox vaccine quickly took hold by the 1800s and completely replaced variolation in England in the 1840s. Smallpox was declared as completely eradicated from the world in 1980.

The development and use of vaccines has grown over time, and today it is considered one of the top 10 accomplishments of global public health efforts, as well as a top 10 achievement for US public health. Although Dr.Jenner discovered and used the first effective vaccine in the 1700s, it wasn’t until the 1900s that vaccine development really exploded due to further scientific advancements and interest in vaccinations. Since the turn of the 20th century, there has been the development of 21 vaccines. Now, let’s return to the basics and discuss why vaccines are relevant now. Let’s start with the basics. A vaccine is and “product that produces immunity from a disease and can be administered through needle injections, by mouth, or by aerosol.” On the other hand, vaccination is defined as “the injection of a killed or weakened organism that produces immunity in the body against that organism.” Therefore, vaccination is treatment with a vaccine, which causes an immune response. In the United States, it is standard care for children to receive vaccines against 14 diseases by the age of 2. This plan arose after the development of national efforts and use of federal funds to promote the use of the polio vaccine in 1955. Since that time, all levels of the government have been involved in a partnership with healthcare providers to develop and maintain a certain level of vaccine use among the population as a means of disease control. The CDC even has a table outlining all recommended vaccines and the most appropriate ages to give each vaccine under normal and altered circumstances.

I recognize that this introduction to vaccinations may have created more questions than it has answered for many of my readers. However, it is important to understand the history and development of vaccines before continuing onto current information (and controversies) surrounding the subject. Next week, we will continue to unpack some of the facts and myths surrounding childhood vaccines. See you then!


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