Vaccines That Have Saved Lives

Most vaccines work by injecting a small amount of a virus into our bodies so that immunity is built up. There have been many developed over time. We shall explore four of the most important in history.

Flu

Winter Flu is seasonal, and vaccines developed to help combat it protect the elderly and vulnerable and save thousands upon thousands of lives. The development of vaccinations against influenza, to give it its full name, began in the 1930s, but it was not until 1945 that, in the US, it was available on a large scale. Soldiers in World War II were the first to receive it when it was approved for military use. The following year it would be approved for civilian use.

Flu originated as a virus during 1918-1919, when it was first identified in US military personnel in the spring of 1918. It is estimated that a third of the world’s population, some 500 million people, became infected with it. This led to many deaths. So, there was much need for a vaccination, as it continues to be a killer among the elderly in our population.

Chickenpox (Varicella)

The complications that can arise from chicken pox can be serious. These include bacterial/streptococcal infections of the skin and soft tissue in children. The lungs can become infected, resulting in pneumonia or even inflammation of the brain (known as encephalitis, cerebellar ataxia). So, it was important that a vaccine was found to protect the many children likely to become infected with the disease and develop life-threatening conditions as a result.

It was Michiaki Takahashi who developed the vaccine after having had experience of caring for his 3-year-old son who contracted chickenpox. The vaccine is now used the world over.

It has been demonstrated that people vaccinated against chicken box have antibodies for 10 to 20 years after vaccination.

Diphtheria

Diphtheria is a serious infection. It is caused by bacteria strains, known as Corynebacterium diphtheriae, which make poison or toxin. It can, in the worst cases, lead to difficulty in breathing, heart failure, paralysis, and sometimes death.

There are in all four vaccines available that offer protection. The DTaP vaccine, which protects young children from diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough. DT Vaccine which just protects children against diphtheria and tetanus. Tdap vaccine for preteens, teens, and adults, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough. And finally, Td vaccine which protects preteen, teen, and adults, against just tetanus and diphtheria.

We have Emil Behring (1854-1917) and Shibasaburo Kitasato (1853-1931) to thank for the vaccine. They released a scientific paper on diphtheria and tetanus immunity in experimental animals.

The vaccine for Diphtheria has been very effective. It has resulted in, between 1980 and 2000, a 90 percent decrease in global cases of the disease.

Measles

The vaccine injected to prevent Measles is called the MMR vaccine. It is given to prevent the triple threat of measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles). It is recommended that children be given two doses of the vaccine, with the first dose given between 12 and 15 months of age, and the second between 4 and 6 years.

One in around every 1,000 children who catch measles go on to develop encephalitis (swelling of the brain), which can lead to convulsions, often leaving a child deaf or intellectually impaired. Almost 1 out of 3 of the 1,000 children will die from neurologic or respiratory complications. Whooping cough is a serious respiratory infection and most harmful to young babies. Rubella is serious when someone is pregnant.

Dr Hilleman invented the vaccine by beginning with collecting a strain of mumps from his own daughter. So, we have them both to thank for the vaccine.

So, considering what is at stake, it would make sense to get vaccinated.

More recently, vaccines have been developed by companies such a Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca to immunise against Covid-19, a highly contagious airborne respiratory disease of Asian origin, which has blighted families and businesses the world over. The science world continues to rise to the challenges that threaten our health. Without it, there is reduced capacity to enjoy life and spend the money that results from all our hard work. Long may governments continue to invest heavily in science and vaccination programs.