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The History of Vaccines



This article is published in collaboration with Statista

by Katharina Buchholz


More than two centuries ago, on May 14, 1796, the English doctor Edward Jenner carried out what was later proven to have been the first modern-day vaccination, when he injected a young boy with pus from cow pox (or vaccinia virus) blisters on a milkmaid’s hands. This immunized him against smallpox and the virus’ name coined the term “vaccine.”


Jenner was the first doctor to introduce and scientifically study the smallpox vaccine. But the concept of giving yourself a mild form of the disease to immunize against a harsher form existed as early as 16th century China or early 18th century India.


With the progress of science in the 20th century, the development of vaccines was accelerating, but the latter part of the century also gave rise to skepticism and conspiracy theories surrounding vaccines.


While the disease targeted by the first modern-day vaccine, smallpox, has successfully been eradicated, that feat has not been accomplished for polio and tuberculosis yet.


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