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  • Writer's pictureLaasya Ravi

Different methods of vaccination throughout history

Why this Topic? There is a new strain of Covid called the Omicron variant. Experts are not sure whether this mutation is more or less severe than the Delta strain. This led me to wonder what different methods people in the past used for their vaccines and to gain immunity. Vaccines have greatly evolved over time, eradicating many viral infections. For example, smallpox was a disease that killed 300,000,000 people by attacking their respiratory tract. Now, we don’t have to worry about this viral infection, thanks to vaccines. Today, let’s go through the different forms of immunity. How Does an Immune Response Work? Ever since 200 BCE, ancient civilizations have sought a way to prevent illness. Many have discovered the secret behind immunity. Immunity is the body’s way of resisting infection. A vaccine is something used to create memory within the immune system to fight the pathogen. So, how does an immune response work? Each vaccine consists of weakened or dead parts of a pathogen. When a person gets a vaccine, their body will learn how to fight this weak viral infection. The immune system will remember this version of the infection, and will know how to fight it later. This is why 90% of people never get the exact same viral infection twice. Each virus has a different genetic code, which is why there is a new flu shot every year. Are Vaccines Actually Helpful? For this section, I will be using examples from the polio outbreak. Polio is short for poliomyelitis. This disease attacks the nerves, resulting in paralysis and even death. In 1905, polio was first discovered in Sweden. Ivar Wickman found that polio could be spread person to person, and that many people who had polio didn’t even have symptoms. 30% of people who had polio described the symptoms as flu-like. Many people who had polio often experienced paralysis in their chest, resulting in respiratory failure. Many years prior to this outbreak, Philip Drinker and Louis Agassiz Shaw made the first iron lung. John Emerson then changed the design in order to make the machine proper for polio treatment. The iron lung would help a person maintain proper blood oxygen levels. This was the predecessor to the modern day ventilators. There were over 1,200 people in iron lungs by 1959 just in the United States. Jonas Salk invented the first polio vaccine in 1955., but vaccination production was halted less than a month after. According to, “Though the cause of the disaster was never proven, it is likely that certain production methods (which, it turns out, did not follow Salk’s instructions)(likely) resulted in a failure to completely kill the…poliovirus in the vaccine,” (History of Vaccines). 11 people died from the vaccine, and hundreds have been paralized. After this incident, vaccine production was fixed, and was 80-90% effective. In 1960, Albert Sabin made an oral vaccine, which also helped reduce the number of polio cases. In 1952, there were about 60,000 cases of polio, and up to 20,000 people were left paralyzed. In 1979, polio was declared not a threat in the United States anymore. By the year 2000, there was a 99% reduction, and Europe even declared that polio was eradicated. The number of people in iron lungs went from more than 1,200 to 39 in less than 50 years. Now, only two people, Paul Alexander and Martha Lillard, use iron lungs. Because of the polio vaccine, polio is no longer a major concern in today’s world. Inoculation/Variolation Inoculation (or variolation) was the first form of gaining immunity. This was typically done by rubbing some of the virus into the hand of the person that needed immunity. Inoculation started back in China or India around 200 BCE. This method was used to help slow down the spread of the smallpox outbreak. In 1798, Edward Jenner noticed that farmers who had cowpox didn’t get smallpox. He took the genetic material inside a cowpox wart, and inoculated an eight year old boy (James Phipps), and that was the start of developing the vaccine. In the 1940s, science had improved, leading to mass production of the smallpox vaccine. Jet Injector Made by anesthesiologist Robert Hingson, the jet injector was the first needle free vaccination device. These machines use high pressured liquids to inject vaccines into the human body. They were used in the 1960s and were successful in vaccinating most of the population. Unfortunately, this led to an outbreak of hepatitis b. This is a liver disease that’s caused by exposure to another person’s bodily fluids. Since jet injectors are multi use instruments, the World Health Organization (WHO) started to make the syringe/needle vaccine more prominent. Jet injectors had more benefits than the traditional vaccine. Because of this, single use injector packs were developed, along with research in powder vaccines as opposed to the liquid solutions. Bifurcated Needle Dr. Benjamin Rubin invented the bifurcated needle in 1965. These needles were made specifically for the smallpox vaccine. By using this design, each person didn’t need as much of the dose as previously recommended. The new needle could go directly into the intramuscular, which is where the most vaccines are administered. This innovation paved the way for scientists to start developing thinner needles. Oral Vaccine Oral vaccines are typically used for cattle, sheep, and pigs. This type of vaccination consists of a live, weakened version of the vaccine in a pill form. They were first approved to fight against typhoid in 1989. A person who wished to take the oral vaccine would have to take four pills, one every other day. A person at risk would need a booster shot every 5 years. There is also an option to get an oral cholera vaccine too. Conclusion Throughout history, gaining immunity has always been sought out. Vaccinations are proven to reduce the spread of a disease which protects not only an individual, but the population as a whole.
























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