Vaccines are small doses of a disease or virus that prepare the body’s immune system for any future encounters with that disease. After exposure to the disease through vaccination, the body builds up resistance to that specific disease. The development of these important and impactful vaccinations has led to the eradication or near eradication of several diseases that brought death and disability to thousands.
Polio is a disease caused by the poliovirus that can degrade an individual’s spinal cord and musculature. In extreme cases, polio leads to muscle paralysis and death if the paralysis invades muscles used for breathing. In 1952, Jonas Salk developed the first effective polio vaccine. After the development of the vaccine, mass immunization campaigns took place throughout the United States.
Governments then distributed polio vaccines throughout the world. By 1989, polio was eradicated in the Americas, and as of 2017 only Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria had recorded cases of polio. Overall, the polio vaccination campaign is considered one of the most important and impactful global health campaigns in human history.
Smallpox is an infectious disease most commonly known by the distinct progressive skin rash it causes that spreads across the body. The disease also gives individuals a fever and severely weakens the body. Approximately three out of 10 individuals that have smallpox die. Smallpox is believed to have dated back to the Egyptian era and caused many deaths throughout global civilization.
A vaccination for smallpox was formally discovered and published in 1798 by Edward Jenner. Throughout the 19th century, smaller scale vaccination campaigns attempted to eliminate the disease’s prevalence. It was not until 1967 that the World Health Organization coordinated a massive vaccination campaign to eradicate the disease globally. In 1977, the last epidemic of smallpox occurred in Somalia.
In 1980, the World Health Assembly officially declared the world rid of the disease thanks to the distribution of these important and impactful vaccinations. Today, the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization describe smallpox eradication as the biggest achievement in public health history.
Yellow Fever Vaccine
Yellow fever is a mosquito-borne disease that affects countries in equatorial climates. Yellow fever causes serious bleeding of the internal organs and in many cases results in death. The illness derives its name from the jaundice symptoms, or yellow discoloration of the skin, that usually result from infection. In 1937, while conducting research at the Rockefeller Foundation in Ecuador, microbiologist Max Theiler developed an effective vaccination strain.
Later, the global health community distributed the vaccine to the countries most affected by the illness. In 1952, Theiler received a Nobel Prize for his efforts in disease eradication. Today, yellow fever outbreaks are common, but these important and impactful vaccinations continue to save millions of lives.
Furthermore, countries with disease prevalence are taking massive steps to eliminate yellow fever. For instance, as of January 2018, the Nigerian government has set a goal to vaccinate 25 million individuals in hopes of meeting a global effort to end all yellow fever epidemics by 2026.
Vaccinations are one way that foreign aid and global health work hand in hand to genuinely help humanity. While there are more diseases that need to be researched and certainly more vaccinations to distribute, it is important to take stock of historical public health achievements and incorporate their successes into future efforts.
– Daniel Levy
Photo: Wikimedia Commons