The invention of VACCINES

The human body, despite being given great care and attention, often falls sick due to infections caused by pathogens that conquer our bodies. The infectious viruses and bacteria weaken the immune system, making the body easily prone to diseases. Ages back, when medical science was still taking its baby steps, people were totally unaware of the reason for their illness and the medication that was required to cure it. With the development in medical research, the identification of the cause of the diseases became possible. But the task of identifying the right medication was still an uphill struggle.

It was sometime around the 1760s that Edward Jenner, a surgeon/apothecary, whilst serving his apprenticeship, he learned of the story about dairy workers who never got affected with the often-fatal disease smallpox because they had already had cowpox. Jenner who was already working towards finding a medicine to treat his patients who got affected with smallpox, decided to research and experiment using the lead that he got. He took the pus from the hand of a milkmaid with cowpox, scratched it into the arm of an 8-year-odl boy, and six weeks later inoculated the boy with smallpox. He observed that the boy did not catch smallpox. Jenner extended his research and in the year 1798, he reported that the vaccine that he invented was safe in children and adults. He stated that this vaccine with cowpox was much safer than smallpox inoculation that was being practiced widely in England. Soon after the vaccine became popular, the smallpox inoculation was banned in the year 1840.

A vaccine is a biological preparation that provides active acquired immunity to a particular disease. It contains an agent that resembles the disease-causing microorganism. The vaccine is prepared from the weakened or killed form of the microbe, its toxins or one of its surface proteins.  The vaccine when injected stimulates the body’s immune system to recognize the disease-causing agent and kill it. It also keeps a record of the agent in order to recognize and destroy the agent in future encounters.

With further research in this field, there came many developments and efforts were made to bring vaccines for other deadly diseases like anthrax, chicken cholera etc, by Louis Pasteur in the 1880s.

Following the already successful invention of vaccines, the twentieth century saw the introduction of more vaccines for diseases like diphtheria, measles, mumps, and rubella. Of all the vaccines introduced, the polio vaccine which was introduced in the 1950s was considered to be a major achievement in the medical history, along with the vaccines for the eradication of smallpox that came during the 1960s and 1970s.

A report by the World Health Organization (WHO) states that there are licensed vaccines currently available to prevent or control around twenty-five infections. There is yet a lot of research going on to introduce vaccines for more infections and diseases which would promise to reduce the increasing risk of illness among people.

Image Courtesy: Raymond Francis Author, Pinterest.