Every so often, I look in our junk drawer at home, and see a very expensive piece of paper that confirms that I do, actually, have a History degree. It’s not often that I get to prove that it was a worthy investment. However, today, I’m actually going to prove that I didn’t just drink and party for three years in Uni – and give you a cheeky little rundown of some significant events in the history of vaccines.

1796: The first ever vaccine

Let’s get back to GCSE history. The OG iconic Jenner, Edward tested a theory drawn from countryside rumour: because milkmaids contracted cowpox, they never suffered the far more severe disease of smallpox. Jenner carried out an experiment which inserted the pus from a cowpox pustule and insured into an eight year old’s arm. Sounds pretty grim, but it was the first step in eradicating the disease, which was declared eradicated by the World Health Assembly in 1980. 

1853: Smallpox vaccines made mandatory

In 1853, the British government made the smallpox vaccine mandatory for children in the first three months of life – otherwise the parents could be fined or imprisoned.

1879: First laboratory-developed vaccine developed

Using weakened bacteria, Louis Pasteur developed the vaccine for chicken cholera, after accidentally discovering that exposure to oxygen made bacteria less deadly. This discovery is thought to be the birth of immunology. Not a bad result for an accident, eh?

1885: Rabies vaccine used in humans

Another success from our French pal, Louis Pasteur.

1893: Low vaccination rates lead to smallpox outbreak

Due to a cheeky bit of complacency after the previous epidemic of smallpox, people stopped getting vaccinated, leading to a large outbreak. 

1936: Max Theiler develops yellow fever vaccine

In 1936, South African Max Theiler developed a vaccine against yellow fever – having proven that the yellow fever was a filterable virus in 1927. In 1951, Max won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for “his discoveries concerning yellow fever and how to combat it”.

1939: Whooping cough vaccine shown to be effective

Repping women in STEM – in 1939 the first whooping cough vaccine was developed by Pearl Kendrick, Grace Eldering and Loney Gordon. 

1955: Mass polio vaccinations

We don’t often think about polio – mostly because it hasn’t been contracted in the UK since 1982. However, polio was once a genuine threat to public health, with many children and some adults dying or having permanent disabilities as a result of contracting the virus. The development of the vaccine, for many parents, was a huge relief. This vaccine was later replaced in 1961 with a vaccine that could be administered orally- often in a sugar cube.

1998: Andrew Wakefield falsely links MMR vaccine to autism

If you’ve ever heard about the link between vaccines and autism, it comes from a now discredited article in the medical journal The Lancet by then-doctor Andrew Wakefield in 1998. The article falsely claimed that the mumps, measles and rubella vaccine caused children to develop autism. This article was later retracted, and Wakefield was struck off the medical record. 

2008: HPV vaccine for girls

For girls and women of a certain age, you’ll remember getting a HPV vaccine at school- and lads punching your arm after you got it. The vaccine was rolled out to prevent HPV-related cancers. There is some justice for girls now – boys are now offered the vaccine, meaning anyone of any gender can have some protection AND have a couple of days of a sore arm.

2021: Mass covid vaccination

This year, governments across the world have embarked on massive vaccination programmes. In the Isle of Man, over 50,000 people have had their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. 

Beyond Covid, vaccines are a regular occurrence. Babies underneath the age of one receive the 6-in-1 vaccine, the pneumococcal vaccine, the MenB vaccine and the Rotavirus vaccine. Children aged 1 to 15 receive the Hib/MenC vaccine, MMR vaccine, children’s flu vaccine, 4-in-1 preschool booster, HPV vaccine, 3-in-1 teenage booster, and menACWY vaccine. 

Registration is now open for adults in the Isle of Man, click here to register.

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