On The Side Ideograph

Drop by drop: a brief history of vaccination

Updated 10 May, 2016 01:40pm
A health worker gives a child a polio vaccine | AP
A health worker gives a child a polio vaccine | AP

Pakistan is one of the only two countries in the world where poliovirus still persists — the other being Afghanistan. A major hindrance to eliminating polio is the perception that polio vaccine can cause infertility. Islamabad has an ambitious goal of vaccinating 35 million children under the age of five in order to eradicate the disease by the end of 2016 and, in a final push, six polio drives will be conducted until May 2016. Here, the Herald traces the inception of the idea of vaccination and its development.

1000 CE

The son of a Chinese statesman is inoculated against smallpox by blowing powder from pulverised smallpox scabs blown into his nostril.


A Boston minister is gifted an African slave who bears a scar from smallpox variolation. The minister finds many others slaves have been variolated and thus become immune to the disease.


Smallpox spreads across Boston, killing 844 people. During this time, physician Zabdiel Boylston variolates 248 people, officially introducing variolation to the Americas.


Benjamin Jesty, an English farmer, introduces cowpox inoculation by inoculating his wife and two sons with matter from a cowpox lesion from one of his cows.


George Washington, commander-in-chief of the Continental Army orders mandatory inoculation for troops after the American Revolutionary War.


Physician Richard Dunning introduces the term ‘vaccination’, from the Latin word for ‘cow’ (vacca).


Chemist Louis Pasteur produces the first laboratory-developed vaccine for chicken cholera. Pasteur attenuates, or weakens, the bacteria for use in the vaccine.


Robert Koch identifies the agent that causes tuberculosis and begins to work on a vaccine for treatment and prevention of the deadly disease.


Spanish physician Jaime Ferrán develops a cholera vaccine: he cultivates bacteria taken from the waste of a cholera patient and grows the bacteria on nutrient culture.


The US government licences pharmaceutical company Merck’s combined vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR).


The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licenses Maurice Hilleman’s hepatitis A vaccine.


The World Health Organization (WHO) certifies South East Asia, with the exception of Pakistan, polio-free on March 27, 2014.


Ebola virus emerges at an epidemic level in 2014. Several vaccines are advanced rapidly in African and non-African countries.


Vaccines are now given through intramuscular (IM), intradermal (ID) and subcutaneous (SC) injections; intranasal sprays and oral vaccines have also been introduced.

– Compiled from A History of Vaccines by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and media reports

This was originally published in the Herald's April 2016 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.