Understanding the history of vaccines is necessary to truly appreciate the important role they play in our lives. A special thank you to Dr. Mark A. Jacobs for taking time to help us better understand just how far we have come because of the life-saving power of vaccines.
Dr. Jacobs, a third generation obstetrician-gynecologist (Ob/GYN), received his medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine and has been board certified obstetrics-gynecology since 1983. He is a Fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and is a staff member at the Women’s Hospital of Texas. Dr. Jacobs currently works in a private practice in the Texas Medical Center in Houston and is a well-respected instructor of gynecological surgery for residents in both the Baylor College of Medicine and The University of Texas Medical School. In addition, Dr. Jacobs has been a certified clinical investigator running clinical trials at TMC Life research for 7 years.
Thank you again Dr. Jacobs!
More lives have been saved and misery prevented by vaccines than any other medical treatment since the beginning of history.
The first vaccine was discovered by a farmer worried about smallpox, a vast killer since antiquity. There was and still is no cure. Once inhaled, the virus causes high fever and prostration before attacking blood vessels in the skin, mucous membranes, and internal organs. Pustules erupt explosively. Death occurs in 25 – 90 % of cases. In 1774 when there were 400,000 annual European deaths from smallpox, it was observed that milkmaids exposed to cowpox remained safe. Benjamin Jesty, an English farmer, protected his wife and children by scratching their arms with needles he’d used to puncture pustules on cows. Subsequently British physician James Edward Jenner made a vaccine from cowpox. Universal use eliminated smallpox from the United States, the U.K., and Europe. But in the unvaccinated third world of the 20th century, it killed 300 to 500 million people. There too, the vaccine eradicated smallpox by 1979.
In the 19th century, Louis Pasteur developed vaccines against anthrax and rabies. In the 20th century the polio virus, killer and crippler of children, grew to epidemic proportions. It was conquered in the 1950s by the vaccines of Salk and Sabin and is now approaching eradication. In the 1920s, diphtheria infected 100,000 to 200,000 annually, mostly children, and killed 13,500 to 15,000 per year. In 1943, diphtheria killed 50,000 in Europe. Vaccination allowed the United States to see its last case in 2003. By contrast, reduced vaccination in the Russian Federation after 1991 saw diphtheria rates explode to 200,000 cases and 5,000 deaths. Tetanus vaccines have dropped the number of U.S. cases to 31 per year, contrasted with 59,000 newborn deaths per year from neonatal tetanus among nations where vaccination is absent. Pertussis vaccines saved over a half-million lives in 2002. In 1963, before rubella vaccination, rubella infected 12 million Americans, killed 11,000 of their babies in utero, and left another 20,000 congenitally infected babies with lifelong disability. Vaccination ended this problem in the United States by 2002, but continued vaccination is required to prevent its resurgence. Hepatitis B vaccination, having not yet achieved full usage, has none-the-less thus far reduced cases by 67%, mostly among those vaccinated in childhood. Prior to vaccine availability, chickenpox caused 13,000 hospital admissions and 150 deaths per year in the United States; yet in the first ten years of its vaccine, cases have been reduced by 90%, including a 97% drop in deaths. Per the American Cancer Society, the HPV vaccine has the potential to cut deaths due to cervical cancer by 2/3 worldwide, as well as eliminating anal cancer entirely from both men and women. The flu causes 3000 to 49000 U.S. deaths per year, but the CDC estimates that the flu vaccine will reduce this rate by 60%.
To date, most of the vaccine concerns reported in the media have no basis in fact. There is no link to autism. Some concerns raised by private researchers have been found to be entirely fraudulent and even resulted in serious disciplinary actions. Small numbers of Individuals with specific immune problems and illnesses are at risk for reactions, while individuals with still other serious diseases need vaccines the most. The history of vaccines and the epidemiological data speak clearly for themselves.