Vaccinations are a true marvel of modern medicine. Over the last half century, they have saved more lives across the world than any other medical procedure or product.
Now, work on these preventative treatments can continue apace thanks to the impressive medical research facilities and technologies on offer. For example, scientists can use the clean air equipment provided by specialists such as Contained Air Solutions when they are developing new vaccines.
The pioneering work taking place in this field is building on the efforts of experts going back millennia. Indeed, the story of vaccination stretches back as far as ancient Greece.
In 429 BC, the Greek historian Thucydides noticed that people who survived the smallpox plague in Athens did not seem to become re-infected with the disease.
Meanwhile, in 900 AD, the Chinese discovered a primitive form of vaccination that was referred to as variolation. The procedure was intended to prevent smallpox and it involved exposing healthy people to tissue from the scabs caused by the disease. This was done by either inserting the tissue under the skin or putting powered scabs up the nose. Variolation resulted in mild illness and occasional death. However, it did reduce smallpox rates in the populations that used it. The technique was practised as early as the 10th century, but it became particularly popular between the 14th and 17th centuries.
During the 18th century, variolation spread to Turkey and other countries around the world, including England.
A huge breakthrough was then made by the British physician Dr Edward Jenner. Through his work in the 18th century, he discovered vaccination in its modern form.
Jenner noticed that milkmaids who had contracted cowpox did not usually then catch smallpox. In what would now be deemed a hugely controversial experiment, the physician collected pus from the cowpox blisters on a milkmaid’s hands and infected a small boy. The youngster was ill for a short time, but then recovered. Jenner then tested his immunity hypothesis by purposefully infecting the boy with smallpox. Fortunately, as predicted, the boy did not become ill.
More developments in the field soon followed. In the 1880s, Louis Pasteur developed a vaccine against rabies and in 1890, Emil von Behring discovered the basis of vaccines for tetanus and diphtheria.
Vaccination becomes widespread
By the end of the 1920s, vaccines were available for tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough and tuberculosis and, because of the effectiveness of these preventative treatments, the procedure spread across the globe.
Meanwhile, polio vaccinations began in 1955 and a year later, the World Health Organisation started a project to eradicate smallpox internationally. It had succeeded in its mission by 1980.
Work on these preventative measures continues and in 2008, a new vaccine was created against the human papillomaviruses, which can cause cervical cancer. Another notable development occurred last year, when the NHS introduced a rotavirus vaccination for babies. Also in 2013, the NHS began offering a shingles vaccine to the over-70s and it launched a children’s flu vaccine.
No doubt many more innovations are to come in this field of medical science.