The process of vaccination has a long history. Dating back to 1000 CE in Africa, China and Turkey, the earliest procedure, variolation, was used. To protect people from serious smallpox infections, healthy people were exposed to material from infected people. They got a mild form of the deadly disease and were then protected from serious infection, except for the 1-2% that did get it bad and died.
The English physician, Edward Jenner, developed the first official vaccine for smallpox in 1796. He noticed that milkmaids who were exposed to cowpox, a virus related to smallpox, were protected from smallpox. Thus began the first public vaccination campaign.
The French physician Louis Pasteur developed a rabies vaccine in 1885. The next 50 years saw vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus, anthrax, cholera, plague, typhoid, TB and more. Vaccines for childhood diseases measles, mumps, and rubella were developed for kids. In 1953, the American physician Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine.
The method for developing vaccines has changed. Deactivated disease viruses were once the active ingredient of vaccines. Now they do not need the actual disease virus, just its genetic code. Once the code is sequenced and made available, any lab can download the code and develop a vaccine using the recombinant DNA technology, or in the case of Covid, RNA. Thus the speed of development and numerous Covid vaccines available.
Vaccinations have saved millions from infections and deaths worldwide. But from the very beginning of official vaccination campaigns, there has been resistance. In 1809, Massachusetts passed the first known mandatory vaccination law for smallpox. Resistance grew as other states passed similar laws. In 1853, England passed laws requiring parents to get their infants vaccinated or face fines or imprisonment. Violent riots ensued and the Anti-Vaccination League formed. Lawmakers backed down and penalties were removed.
In the United States, lawsuits challenged a state’s right to mandate vaccination. In 1905, the Supreme Court upheld a state’s right to do so and that remains the precedent today. By the 1970s the success of vaccinations, especially against polio, became obvious to most and opposition declined. But in 1982 a nationally aired documentary linked the childhood DPT vaccine to seizures and brain damage in a few children. Later research showed the effect was temporary and there was no long term damage but the damage was done and resistance to children’s vaccination grew with the establishment of the National Vaccination Information Center, the main anti-vac organization in the U.S.
Then there was a British report that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine caused autism in 12 children. The study contained falsified data and was retracted 12 years later but is still cited by the anti-vaccination folks. As a result childhood vaccination rates have fallen and measles, once considered eradicated, has returned.
Now the Covid vaccination rate, which started out strong, has slowed with less than half of Americans being vaccinated. There are numerous reasons people have to not get vaccinated but one is conspiracy theories like there is a microchip in the vaccine which spread on social media like wildfire. The result will likely be COVID-19 and its variants will be with us for years to come.
Ed Perkins farms in Athens County.