The History of Vaccines: A Glance Behind and a Look Ahead
A pediatrician evaluates the past and future of kids' inoculations
The Vaccination Record
One hundred years ago, 40 percent of all deaths were due to 11 diseases—influenza, pneumonia, tuberculosis, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles, typhoid, polio, and scarlet fever, as well as diseases causing diarrhea. And in the 1920s, before the diphtheria vaccine came along, 150,000 Americans each year caught this disease and 15,000 died. In 2002, only one case of diphtheria was reported in the United States. Just one.
A polio epidemic in 1916 paralyzed 27,000 people and left 6,000 dead. The first March of Dimes, in 1938, was a national request to the people of America to send one dime to the White House to be used in the fight against polio. President Franklin Roosevelt, himself a polio victim, saw the White House collect 230,000 dimes in just the first week (and Roosevelt remains on the dime to this day)! A polio vaccine was introduced in the mid-1950s, and within a few decades, wild-type polio was nearly wiped out. The few cases per year that did occur were related to the live virus vaccine, which prompted a switch to the killed version in the 1990s.
Measles (whose name probably derives from the Latin word for “miserable”) still kills one million people each year worldwide. But the vaccine introduced in this country in 1963 has made it rare in the US.
In the mid-1980s, a new vaccine technology brought the hemophilus influenza B (HIB) vaccine to the market. At that time, this bacterium was the leading cause of meningitis in children under five in the United States. There were 12,000 cases per year; one-fourth of those children were left with permanent brain damage, and one in twenty died. Today, we have virtually eliminated invasive HIB disease from this country. A similar story is underway with the pneumococcus vaccine introduced in 2000. This germ is now the new top cause of meningitis in small children, but the number of cases has already fallen by over 70 percent.
Clearly, the progress that’s been made against these germs has been stunning, with millions of American children saved from debilitation and death over the past 80 years.
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