The COVID-19 pandemic has been an eye-opener regarding the detrimental impact of microbial species on the human body. Vaccines act as vital tools for developing immunity against various infectious organisms through the recognition of targeted pathogens by the immune system. (Find more information on the mechanism of action of multiple types of vaccines here).
The initial development of vaccines resulted from the tireless efforts of many prestigious researchers who selflessly pursued the prevention of infectious diseases. Here is a brief sneak peek into the contributions of a few of these scientists whose invaluable efforts have saved millions of lives.
In the 1880s, Louis Pasteur developed vaccines for four potentially fatal infections, including Chicken Cholera, Anthrax, Swine Erysipelas, and Rabies. He was the first to introduce the use of live attenuated pathogens to develop immunity against the causative organisms (1). The vaccine for Chicken Cholera (Pasteurella multocida) was the first to be developed in a laboratory. Pasteur received several medals and honors, including the Leeuwenhoek Medal from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences for his contributions to microbiology in 1895 (2).
Rabies cases and rates worldwide, 1990 – 2015
Waldemar Mordecai Wolffe Haffkine
Waldemar Haffkine developed the first vaccines for Cholera and Plague, in the 1890s (3). Haffkine tested these inoculations on himself before initiating mass human trials. He conducted most of his studies in India, a hub of Cholera and Plague, and his monumental work saved the lives of millions of people.
Plague cases and rates 1948 – 2018
Jesse William Lazear
Dr. Jesse Lazear was an American physician who played a critical role in understanding the transmission of Yellow fever, a life-threatening viral infection (4). It was later revealed that he “allowed himself to be bitten by mosquitoes that had fed on the blood of patients with yellow fever,” which eventually led to his demise. His sacrifice was crucial in establishing the relationship between mosquitoes and Yellow fever, which later formed the basis of the development of key preventative strategies.
Max Theiler received the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology “for his discoveries concerning Yellow fever and how to combat it” in 1951 (5). He pioneered the work on the development of a safe, standardized vaccine for the disease. In his studies, he used mice instead of rhesus monkeys, which were considered to be the main reservoir of the infection. Following this, mice continued to serve as standard tools for the study of zoonotic diseases by future researchers (6).
Yellow fever cases and rates worldwide, 1950 – 2016
Grace Eldering & Pearl Kendrick
Both scientists conducted in-depth studies on Pertussis (whooping cough), which then became the basis of the development of a vaccine (7). Interestingly, both Grace Eldering and Pearl Kendrick suffered from whooping cough in their childhood, which was said to be the motivation behind their work. They were also involved in combining the Pertussis vaccine with those of Diphtheria and Tetanus to produce the DPT vaccine.
Pertussis cases and rates worldwide, 1980 – 2018
John Franklin Enders
John Franklin Enders is referred to as “The Father of Modern Vaccines.” In 1954, he, along with Thomas H. Weller and Frederick C. Robbins, received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the successful in-vitro culture of the Poliomyelitis viruses (poliovirus) (8). Subsequently, Enders and his colleagues worked on developing a vaccine against the Measles virus, resulting in the availability of a live attenuated Measles virus vaccine and a deactivated Measles virus vaccine – marketed by Merck & Co. and Pfizer, respectively (9).
Measles cases and rates worldwide, 1980 – 2019
The names mentioned above are just a few of the many scientists whose dedication, hard work, and intellect helped develop safe and effective vaccines, providing immeasurable contributions to our healthcare system.
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- FLEMING A. Louis Pasteur. Br Med J. 1947 Apr 19;1(4502):517-22. doi: 10.1136/bmj.1.4502.517.
- “Leeuwenhoek Medal”, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences [Online]. Available. https://www.knaw.nl/en/awards/laureates/leeuwenhoekmedaille
- Hawgood BJ. Waldemar Mordecai Haffkine, CIE (1860-1930): prophylactic vaccination against Cholera and bubonic Plague in British India. J Med Biogr. 2007 Feb;15(1):9-19. doi: 10.1258/j.jmb.2007.05-59.
- Reed W, Carroll J, Agramonte A, Lazear JW. Classics in infectious diseases. The etiology of yellow fever: a preliminary note. Walter Reed, James Carroll, A. Agramonte, and Jesse W. Lazear, Surgeons, U.S. Army. The Philadelphia Medical Journal 1900. Rev Infect Dis. 1983 Nov-Dec;5(6):1103-11.
- “Max Theiler Biographical”, The Nobel Prize [Online]. Available https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/1951/theiler/biographical/
- Norrby E. Yellow fever and Max Theiler: the only Nobel Prize for a virus vaccine. J Exp Med. 2007 Nov 26;204(12):2779-84. doi: 10.1084/jem.20072290.
- Shapiro-Shapin CG. Pearl Kendrick, Grace Eldering, and the pertussis vaccine. Emerg Infect Dis. 2010 Aug;16(8):1273-8. doi: 10.3201/eid1608.100288.
- “John F. Enders Biographical”, The Nobel Prize [Online]. Available https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/1954/enders/biographical/
- Katz SL. John F. Enders and measles virus vaccine–a reminiscence. Curr Top Microbiol Immunol. 2009; 329:3-11. doi: 10.1007/978-3-540-70523-9_1.