History of Vaccines – Part 3

Third part of a series of articles where you will learn how vaccines came about and how they have evolved over the years.

By Pierina D’Amico

Translation – Sumit Khanna

In “Vaccine History – Part 2” we explore how the terms “vaccine” and “vaccination” came to be. In this part, we will see how vaccines were developed in the 19th century.

The first laboratory vaccine was created by mistake. In 1879, Louis Pasteur was studying the progression of avian cholera when he ordered his assistant to inject some chickens with the virus. However, he forgot and did it a month later. Observing that the animals had been immunized without ever getting sick, Pasteur reasoned that contact of the bacteria with oxygen had diminished its effect. Thus, the first live attenuated vaccine was produced.

It was in 1881, as we have already mentioned, that Pasteur paid tribute to Edward Jenner by presenting the anthrax antidote with the name of “vaccine”.

By the following year, organized anti-vaccine groups were beginning to emerge. For example, the first meeting of the Anti-Vaccine League of America was held in New York. However, the second generation of vaccines was just beginning, and it was still gaining strength.

In 1885, the Spanish doctor Javier Ferrán developed the first human vaccine against a bacterial disease, cholera. It was at this time that the first conversations took place about how public the method of creating a vaccine should be: while some criticized Ferrán for trying to keep his discovery secret, he defended himself by saying that he should be compensated in order to pay for his studies and support your family.

A year later, Pasteur presented his studies on the rabies vaccine. Of the 350 people who had been immunized, only one died. The why? He had not received his dose early enough to prevent illness.

With the passing of time, the effectiveness of vaccines became more and more indisputable. In fact, in 1893, lack of vaccination caused an outbreak of smallpox in Muncie, Indiana, United States. Because the city had stopped immunizing its population since the last epidemic in 1876, the initial cases in one family overcame quarantine and fumigation measures, infecting 140 people and killing 20. These numbers would have been much higher. Of course, if an immediate vaccination campaign that reached 16,000 people had not been carried out.

At the end of the 19th century, the regulation of vaccination was growing. Furthermore, through improvements such as the addition of glycerin to the lymph of vaccines, the monitoring of pharmaceutical suppliers, and advances in microbiology, its supply became increasingly safe.

Join us in “History of Vaccines – Part 4” to find out what advances occurred in the 20th century, a record period in terms of vaccination.


Timeline, The History of Vaccines, Date not specified

Vacuna, Wikipedia, February 23, 2022

Cólera aviar, Wikipedia, February 15, 2021

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