Vaccines have been instrumental in preventing some of the most infectious and life-threatening diseases in human history.
The use of vaccines has been essential in saving lives, decreasing infections and even eradicating certain diseases.
The COVID-19 vaccine isn't the first inoculation that changed the way we live. Here are five vaccines that changed the world:
1. SmallpoxSmallpox was considered one of the deadliest diseases in history, killing around 30% of people (three in ten) who got infected. Classified as heavily infectious, and much more life-threatening in younger people and babies. Many who survived were left with long-term issues including scarring and blindness
|Smallpox was the first disease to be eradicated with the help of a vaccine.|
The development of the smallpox vaccine is recognised as the start of the modern medical field of vaccination. Using a live cowpox virus in 1796, Edward Jenner created the vaccine, and by 1980 the WHO declared the eradication of Smallpox globally.
Polio was a great concern in the 20th century, especially in the 1940s and 1950s.
Polio is a virus that can affect the spinal cord, causing muscle weakness and paralysis. Years after the outbreak in the 40-50s, Iron Lung machines were still in use for those experiencing paralysis after contracting the virus. Paul Alexander was paralysed because of Polio at the age of six. Over 74 years later, he is one of the last remaining users of an Iron Lung.
Unfortunately, there is still no known cure for the poliovirus. Currently, the only way to prevent polio and long-term complications is through vaccination.
As a result of a wide-scale vaccination program first rolled out in the 1950s, eventually, the world began to eradicate polio. Global eradication of polio began in 1988, and since then global cases have decreased by 99.9% through immunisation efforts. But what made the vaccine more significant was that it was the first time that an inactive form of a virus was used to develop a vaccine. This type of vaccine, known as inactivated vaccines, are the kind used today for the COVID-19 vaccinations.
Discovered in 1979, Ebola is a rare virus that causes severe illnesses in humans with a 50% death rate, and currently no cure.
Ebola is rare but highly infectious. Outbreaks in Africa in 2014 recorded around 28,000 cases. The virus crossed the African border to Europe and the rest of the world in 2014.
By 2015, trials for the vaccine had begun. Unfortunately, Ebola has yet to be eradicated because some areas have minimal vaccination programs. The most recent outbreak was in March 2021 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Republic of Guinea.
The development of the vaccine for Ebola was years in the making, having begun long before the 2014 outbreak. Even though Ebola is not eradicated, having a vaccine means that new outbreaks are contained and lives are saved.
More than 5 million people get meningitis worldwide each year. First recorded in 1805, meningitis is a bacterial infection that can cause swelling in tissue around the brain and spinal cord as well as blood infections and sepsis. Anyone can get this disease, but babies, young children, and older adults are more at risk. Meningitis has a 50% fatality rate if left untreated. Meningitis can cause huge epidemics and smaller clusters of infection which makes it particularly hard to eradicate, even with vaccines on our side.
The WHO and the CDC recommend vaccination as the main and most effective preventive measure against the disease. There are two types of vaccine:
- MenB vaccine, which infants get at around 8 weeks, and then again at 16 weeks
- MenACWY, which teenagers and pre-teens in the UK receive as standard practice
Although there are not vaccines for all causes of meningitis, the vaccines that we do have are undoubtedly saving lives and preventing disability. Today, meningitis is at a historic low in the world.
Given recent history, we all know how rapidly and easily COVID-19 spreads. To date, it has been responsible for over 3 million deaths worldwide.
While preventative measures like social distancing and proper hand hygiene can slow down its spread, it has been agreed that the only means of prevention and eventual complete eradication of COVID-19 is a vaccine.
The speed and efficiency of making the COVID-19 vaccines we have today is a testament to our modern medical institutions and what the world can do when it focuses on one task together, pooling resources and money.
With the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine in the Cayman Islands, we are aiming to vaccinate 70% of our population -- this being the percentage of people who need to be vaccinated in order to protect those who cannot be vaccinated.
Ultimately, vaccines have historically proven to be our best defence against some of the worst diseases in history, and as we continue to discover new viruses, they will continue to be important in ensuring our health and safety as a global community.
Visit our COVID-19 vaccine pages to learn more about the vaccine and how it works.