Vaccines have revolutionised global health, eradicating viruses like smallpox and nearly eliminating poliovirus - diseases that previously killed millions of people. Thanks to vaccines, the number of people who contract preventable infectious diseases like measles, diphtheria, and whooping cough is at an all-time low.
The COVID-19 vaccine began distribution worldwide in December 2020, nearly one year after the illness was first recognised as an outbreak in Wuhan, China.
COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed in a priority approach, immunising healthcare professionals, frontline workers and those most vulnerable first. The COVID-19 vaccine was put on a fast track, but it was still developed under the same stringent process all modern-day vaccines are, which have been proven safe and effective for decades.
What steps go into developing a vaccine? And when was the first vaccine invented? We're answering these questions by taking a look at the history of vaccines and how they've made the world a healthier place.
WHEN WERE VACCINES INVENTED?
When looking at the history of vaccines timeline, you can start in 15th century China. The Chinese recognised that people who survived smallpox did not get the disease again. They decided to take smallpox scabs from people who had mild cases, dry them out, grind them into a powder and blow the powder up the nostrils of healthy people. The effectiveness of these early vaccination efforts is not well-known. Still, they had the right idea: taking a weaker version of the virus and introducing it to healthy people to allow their immune system to build up antibodies (cells that fight off the virus).
A more sophisticated take on vaccinations can be traced back to the late 18th century. From there, vaccines have made leaps and bounds of progress. Here is a look at the vaccine timeline over the past 225 years.
- 1796 - Dr. Edward Jenner collected bits of cowpox pustule—the animal variant of smallpox - from the arm of a milkmaid named Sarah Nelmes and scratched it into the arm of an 8-year-old boy.
- 1881 - French Biologist Louis Pasteur developed a successful vaccine against anthrax. Pasteur exposed anthrax pathogens to heat and oxygen to weaken, but not kill them.
- 1885 - Pasteur developed a successful vaccine against rabies. Pasteur used the same approach he did for the anthrax vaccine.
- 1914 - Pertussis, or whooping cough, vaccine is developed.
- 1926 - Diphtheria vaccine is developed.
- 1938 - Tetanus vaccine is developed.
- 1948 - Pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus vaccines are combined and given as the DTP vaccine.
- 1955 - Jonas Salk develops a break-through polio vaccine based on a dead poliovirus.
- 1963 - Measles vaccine is developed.
- 1967 - Mumps vaccine is developed.
- 1969 - Rubella vaccine is developed.
- 1977 - The smallpox vaccine is no longer recommended. Because of the vaccine's success, the disease is considered eradicated.
- 1981 - Hepatitis B vaccine is developed.
- 1996 - Chickenpox vaccine is developed.
- 1998-1999 - Rotavirus vaccine is developed.
- 2000 - Hepatitis A vaccine is developed.
- 2000 - Polio vaccine is no longer recommended. Because of the vaccine's success, the disease is no longer considered a threat.
- 2001 - Pneumococcal vaccine is developed.
HOW MANY LIVES ARE SAVED BY VACCINES?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests that vaccination prevents two to three million deaths each year. However, experts are confident that vaccines have saved millions of lives, calculating a precise number is impossible. Also, the quoted number from the WHO is, in important ways, a very low estimate.
The counterfactual world, in which vaccines would have never been developed, would be so different that an estimate of the impact of vaccines is impossible. One example that makes this clear is to consider the effect of the smallpox vaccine. Smallpox was once a prevalent and deadly infectious disease, but it has been eradicated globally back in 1977 thanks to the vaccination against the disease. It is impossible to know precisely how many people would die of smallpox today if scientists had not developed the vaccine. Reasonable estimates are in the range of around five million lives per year, which implies that between 1980 and 2018, around 150 to 200 million lives have been saved. This clarifies why it is so difficult to estimate the number of lives saved every year and why the WHO estimate is relatively low.
WHY ARE WE TALKING ABOUT VACCINES HERE AT SCHLAM?
Across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic is having damaging effects. We appreciate how much you have already done to adapt during this challenging time. As you know, we have been taking preventive measures at Schlam against COVID-19 since early 2020 to help keep you, our entire staff, your families, and our customers safe.
We have worked under some uncertain and often stressful conditions, and you have helped make it possible for us to continue our essential operations.
As a product and service supplier to the biggest sector in Western Australia, we strongly encourage all Schlam employees to be vaccinated.
Getting the COVID-19 vaccine gives you an added layer of protection against the virus and could also protect your co-workers and your family. Here are some key points about COVID-19 vaccination:
- All COVID-19 vaccines available in Australia are very effective at preventing the disease.
- The most common side effects are a pain in the arm where you got the shot, feeling tired, headache, body aches, chills and fever.
- Stopping a pandemic requires using all the tools we have available—wearing masks, socially distancing from people who don’t live with you, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, washing your hands frequently and getting vaccinated.
Apart from the obvious benefits of protecting your health, there are other reasons that you may want or need to be vaccinated. Some of these are detailed below:
- You may be required to be vaccinated to work on specific sites
- It is highly likely that you will not be able to travel internationally without a vaccination
- Similar to other vaccination requirements for visiting some countries, Schlam is likely to mandate the COVID-19 vaccination for any business travel
- The COVID-19 vaccination could become mandatory before attending sporting events, concerts, nursing homes, childcare centres, hospitals and other public events and facilities.
At some stage in the not-too-distant future, after everyone has had the opportunity to receive their vaccinations, Australia will return to business as normal. Your future is in your hands. Book a COVID-19 vaccination at your first opportunity and help Australia recover and grow.
If you have any questions about vaccines, please feel free to contact Schlam, HSEQ Manager Trevor Cugley or Human Resources Manager Anna McIntyre.