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How Vaccines Have Changed The World: A Brief History

Vaccinations work by exposing our immune systems to a minuscule amount of a virus—just enough to teach our immune systems what the virus is and how to protect us from it. Many people believe that vaccinations are a relatively new idea, but the truth is that they’re rooted in practices dating back to the 1500s. Believe it or not, this form of treatment is a very old idea. Explore how vaccines have changed the world through history and discover why they’re still important today.

How Vaccines Have Changed the World: A Brief History


Ancient Inoculation Practices (16th to 17th Centuries)

People have been exposing themselves to diseases to strengthen their immunity for centuries. But back then, the process known as inoculation was, well… very gross. Some of the earliest forms of vaccination involved grinding up smallpox scabs. From there, doctors would expose patients to the virus with the powder. In some cases, this treatment was said to be incredibly successful, but modern medicine has thankfully taken a lot of the nastiness out of the process and improved it to be vastly more effective.


The Discovery That Changed Everything (Late 18th Century)

Inoculation for the smallpox virus led to further research and perfection of the treatment—so much so that by the late 1700s, a British physician named Edward Jenner finally landed on an effective solution. Jenner found that exposing humans to the cowpox virus, or vaccinia virus, was much safer than exposure to the Variola virus, which caused the deadly smallpox in humans. This inoculation against vaccinia virus would eventually birth the umbrella term we’re all familiar with: vaccination.

Once Jenner made this revolutionary discovery, the devotion to this sector of medical research skyrocketed and continued to improve throughout the centuries. Most impressively, this initial discovery eventually led to the complete eradication of the smallpox virus in 1980.


The Rapid Evolution of Vaccinations (1920s Through the 2020s)

Of course, a lot of other developments occurred between the conception of inoculation and the complete eradication of one of the world’s deadliest diseases. For instance, a vaccination for diphtheria was developed in the 1920s, and it quickly became widespread. It was so effective that the virus would later be nearly unheard of in the US. The 1940s gave rise to the first mumps vaccination, which would be perfected by 1967. By 1979, the world was introduced to a safer, more effective rubella vaccine—a development that would later lead to the complete elimination of the disease in the Americas.

Finally, our vaccines became so advanced that we even devised an effective vaccine for the flu. This was no easy feat. It took a lot of research and new techniques, such as using formaldehyde in the flu vaccines to neutralize toxins and protect people from the full effects of the harmful virus. Years later, these very developments would heal the world as we entered into an unprecedented global pandemic.


The Vaccines of Today

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 era sparked another dire need for the rapid advancement of vaccines. And in the last few years, we’ve had the unique experience of watching what vaccination research and development can do for a world grappling with a harmful disease.

Hopefully, this brief overview has provided some valuable information on how vaccines have changed the world and why we should continue to advocate for them.

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