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history of vaccines, including who discovered them and their usage through the present day. Vaccines are one of the ways humans have learned how to protect themselves from dreaded diseases. Vaccines essentially work by helping the body develop immunity to certain diseases. They often set up a mild reaction in the body, which guards against the development of specific diseases. Examples include the polio vaccine, and the rabies vaccine. The body creates antibodies that fight the disease, which allows the body to become immune to the disease.
Most people credit Edward Jenner, a rural English doctor, for developing or discovering the modern concept of vaccines. Two scientists note, "He experienced the proverbial 'Eureka'-like moment sometime during the 1770s, after hearing a Bristol milkmaid boast, 'I shall never have smallpox for I have had cowpox. I shall never have an ugly pockmarked face'" (Stern and Markel 612). However, research indicated that it was actually the Chinese who discovered the art of vaccination, and it was much earlier in history. Another scientist notes, "More than one thousand years ago, Chinese healers practiced what is now called 'variolation.' The idea was to deliberately cause a mild case of the disease to protect the individual from contracting the natural, severe disease" (Link 11). Both discoveries centered on smallpox, one of the deadliest diseases in history. Both discoveries used cowpox or smallpox itself to infect the patient with a mild form of the disease, which would prevent smallpox infection thereafter. In fact, the word vaccine comes from the Latin word for cow (vacca), indicating the first vaccines were only used to guard against smallpox (Link 12). The next big breakthrough in vaccines came in 1885, when Louis Pasteur discovered the vaccine that would protect against rabies. Vaccine discoveries continued (and continue today) throughout the 20th century, essentially eradicating many deadly diseases around the world. Some of the most famous vaccines include the vaccine for polio, the vaccine for mumps, and the vaccine for tuberculosis.
It is important to note that there are many different types of vaccines. Author Link continues, "There are several types, including live vaccine or live bacteria; killed whole virus or killed whole bacteria; purified components (subunits) of virus or bacteria; and toxoids" (Link 12). The earliest live vaccines were created using live animal tissue, and this continued up to the 1950s. The viruses used to create the vaccines were implanted in animals, usually ferrets and mice. This understandably made early vaccines much more dangerous and often ineffective. It was not until the 1950s, when tissue culture was discovered, that vaccines could be created in the laboratory, without the use of live animals. This helped make vaccines much safer and effective at the same time.
Throughout the 20th century and beyond, vaccines continued to be developed in many forms. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the most common vaccines include Polio, Measles, Meningitis, Whooping Cough, Rubella, Chicken Pox, Hepatitis B, Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Mumps. Of course, there are numerous other vaccines available, from Tuberculosis and Yellow Fever to the "flu shots" most Americans get at the beginning of every flu season. The use of these vaccines has kept many diseases from spreading around the world, and has wiped out many of the world's deadliest diseases.
While numbers are not available for every vaccine known to humans, there are some dramatic statistics regarding some of the most well-known diseases. For example, the CDC reports, "Before polio vaccine was available, 13,000 to 20,000 cases of paralytic polio were reported each year in the United States. […] In 1999, as a result of global immunization efforts to eradicate the disease, there were about 2,883 documented cases of polio in the world" (Editors). Another example the CDC reports on is mumps. They state, "An estimated 212,000 cases of mumps occurred in the U.S. In 1964. After vaccine licensure in 1967, reports of mumps decreased rapidly. Since 1989, the incidence of mumps has declined, with an estimated total of 327 cases in 2000" (Editors). The results have been similar with the use of other vaccines; they have managed to eradicate many diseases not just in this country, but also around the world. For example, another disease pretty much eradicated is Tetanus. The CDC states, "From 1922-1926, there were an estimated 1,314 cases of tetanus per year in the U.S. […] In 2000, only 41 cases of tetanus were reported in the U.S." (Editors). No one knows how many vaccines are administered around the world or in the U.S. each day, but the numbers have to be massive, because most countries require immunization of children before they enter school, and immunization of foreign travelers before they enter foreign countries, along with voluntary immunizations such as the flu shot. These vaccine immunizations help protect humankind from numerous diseases every year, but they also are surrounded by controversy.
While vaccines have created many medical miracles, they have been controversial from the start. Doctor Jenner faced public ridicule because he was injecting a live disease into people to vaccinate them, and even today, there is a very strong antivaccination movement, making many health claims against vaccinations, especially on young children. Author Link continues, "There is an antivaccination movement that seeks to stop vaccination, and its arguments cover the spectrum from reasonable discourse to hysterical paranoia" (Link 38). First, many vaccinations contain live viruses, and they "tinker" with the human immune system. Author Link says, "Vaccines contain poisons and chemicals, including mercury, formaldehyde, antibiotics, and aluminum salts. Vaccines also contain material derived from animals, including beef, horse, chick, monkey, and duck" (Link 38). He also notes that vaccines are often recalled or discontinued due to health concerns, many of them can have serious side effects, and some children have even died from vaccines. There is a strong belief among many antivaccinationists that there is a link between autism and certain vaccinations. Although this has never been proven, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) banned thimerosal-containing vaccines in 1999 in reaction to fears these types of vaccines helped cause autism in some children" (Stern and Markel 618). Another writer notes, "When it comes to modern medicine, there are few topics more dramatic than vaccination. It's a story full of politics, big-business, desperate parents, sick and dying children, conflicts of interest, national security -- it even has abortion controversy, since many vaccines are created using cells from aborted fetuses" (Skloot). There are large segments of the population that believe immunizations cause other health concerns too, and that simply refuse to immunize their children.
Even though they are controversial, CDC studies indicate that nearly 77% of children 19 through 35 months old are immunized in America today, while rates for preteens and teens run at about 38 to 40% receiving the CDC's recommended vaccines for their ages. As the population ages, it seems that they receive fewer vaccines. In the 18 to 49 age group, only 37.3% of the population chooses to get flu shots, but in the 65 and over age group, that number shoots 68.8% (Editors). The numbers for other specific vaccines are similar, with the over 65 population receiving the most inoculations by choice.
There is another growing controversy surrounding vaccines, and that is in how and why they are developed. Author Link poses the questions, "How come most of the vaccines we do have are to protect against the diseases of the richer nations? How come there is a vaccine for chicken pox but none for malaria?" (Link 164). Millions of children in Third World countries still die every year from diseases that are preventable through vaccines, simply because they are too poor to afford them, or they are not available in their countries. Clearly, while vaccines can help save lives, they are not saving lives everywhere, and…[continue]
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