August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM) and this year vaccines and immunology are probably on many more people’s minds than usual – for obvious reasons. While medical professionals and researchers work tirelessly on developing and testing a COVID-19 vaccine (amongst others), let’s briefly remind ourselves how far we have come in such a brief segment of human history.
224 years, 40 vaccines
The first vaccine, developed in 1796 for smallpox, was not put into mass production until many years later – but was a monumental breakthrough in Medicine. It took almost another 100 years before the next vaccines were developed for cholera, rabies, tetanus, typhoid fever, and bubonic plague – at the end of the 19th century. All were developed at great personal risk to the scientist developing the agent, with each saving millions of lives.
Another 34 vaccines have been developed during the 20th and 21st centuries, although some of those are not yet in mainstream production. The most recent of the latter, for Ebola, will hopefully curb ongoing outbreaks. It is incredible to think that although only 40 vaccines have been developed so far in our history, yet these alone have saved millions, if not billions, of lives. Despite their success, only one of the vaccines has succeeded in completely eliminating the disease: Smallpox.
What goes into a vaccine?
Each of us can expect to receive between 9 and 12 varieties of vaccines in our lifetimes, depending on background and travel; and each plays a huge part in preventing significant outbreaks both at home and abroad. Immunization often begins at birth, and, in the case of the influenza vaccine, we will continue to receive doses until we move on from this world. But what actually goes into a vaccine?
You can receive some vaccine doses in the form of a syrup or tablet, however, most are delivered through an injection (other methods are in development), with each dose containing a weakened or killed portion of the disease microbe it is designed to prevent – by teaching your immune system to recognize and neutralize the infecting agent. In most cases, the process is completed over several small, safe doses – often over several years. While vaccines, like any drugs, can have side effects, these are generally minor and resolve in a day or two.
Why is it important?
Our co-founder and resident doctor, Dr. Steve Berger, summarized the importance of vaccines as follows: “Vaccines continue to save millions of lives and have prevented untold misery to the human species. Although the effectiveness of individual vaccines may vary, and most may cause occasional side effects, the cost of non-vaccination – in both death and suffering – will always be much higher.” And if you would like to learn more, head over to the dedicated pages which deal with vaccines at the websites of CDC and WHO, both of which include handy resources and interesting data to explore this subject further.
Events of this past year have painted us a picture of what the world could be like if vaccines hadn’t been developed or weren’t widely administered. The protection they offer us all has been a catalyst for building cities, economies, and international travel and commerce, without the fear of suffering from a major disease. It is always worth remembering how your body is trained to fight diseases and how you can help it out by following clean and safe practices – and being sure to get that flu jab in months to come…
Read more in Guide to Vaccines and Globulin Preparations ebook, currently 20% off.