General Article From cholera to COVID: a brief history of vaccines

Topic Selected: Global Health Book Volume: 419

The idea of vaccinating people against deadly disease dates back centuries.

Today, vaccines save four million lives every year.

And the COVID-19 pandemic saw the most rapid vaccine development ever.

To mark World Immunization Week, we look back at the history of vaccines.

Every minute, eight children’s lives are saved by vaccines, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Previously fatal diseases like smallpox and polio have been virtually eliminated around the world. But how did this lifesaving breakthrough come about?

The idea of using cells from infectious diseases to stimulate the human body’s immune system to fight them is not new. Historians say people were using basic forms of immunization centuries ago.

Vaccines have come a long way since then, with inoculations now available to tackle most of the world’s worst infections. The COVID-19 pandemic saw new vaccines developed in record time - ready in just 12 months compared to the usual average of 10 to 15 years.

The r...

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