History of Vaccination

History of vaccination explores the role of immunization in human experience and examines its continuing contribution to public health. The story however did not begin with first vaccination; the practice of immunization dates back hundreds of years. Buddhist monks drank snake venom to confer immunity to snake bite and variolation (smearing of a skin tear with cowpox to confer immunity to smallpox) was practiced in 17th century China.


Edward Jenner is considered the founder of vaccinology in the West in 1796, after he inoculated a 13 year-old-boy with vaccinia virus (cowpox), and demonstrated immunity to smallpox. In 1798, the first smallpox vaccine was developed. His method underwent medical and technological changes over the next 200 years, and eventually resulted in the eradication of smallpox.

Louis Pasteur’s 1885 rabies vaccine was the next to make an impact on human disease. And then, at the dawn of bacteriology, developments rapidly followed.

Antitoxins and vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus, anthrax, cholera, plague, typhoid, tuberculosis, and more were developed through the 1930’s.

The middle of the 20thcentury was an active time for vaccine research and development. Methods for growing viruses in the laboratory led to rapid discoveries and innovations, including the creation of vaccines for polio. Researchers targeted other common childhood diseases such as measles, mumps, and rubella, and vaccines for these diseases reduced the disease burden greatly.

Innovative techniques now drive vaccine research, with recombinant DNA technology and new delivery techniques leading scientists in new direction.

Disease targets have expanded, and some vaccine research is beginning to focus on non-infectious conditions such as addiction and allergies.

The word vaccine is derived from the word “vaca” that means cow in Spanish.



-400BC  – Hippocrates described mumps, diphtheria and jaundice

– 1100’s – variation techniques developed in China, India, Africa and some parts of Europe.

– 1796 – Edward Jenner discovered a vaccination for smallpox disease by using cowpox material to create immunity,

– 1885 – Louis Pasteur’s discovered vaccine for rabies

– 1896 – Cholera

– 1927 – Tuberculosis

– 1935 – Yellow fever

– 1936 – Influenza

– 1938 – Typhus

Golden Age of Vaccination Technology

– 1963 – 1967 – Polio, Measles, Mumps and Rubella

– 1970 – Anthrax

– 1981 – Hepatitis B

–  And Continuing – The past two decades have seen the application of molecular genetics and its increased insights into immunology, microbiology and genomics applied to vaccinology.



“All Timelines Overview. The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.” History of Vaccines, www.historyofvaccines.org/content/all-timelines-overview.

“Immunisation Advisory Centre”. A brief History of Vaccination,  April 4th, 2017, www.immune.org.nz/vaccines/vaccine-development/brief-history-vaccination

“Smithsonian” Vaccine Week. ABrief History and How Vaccines Work; Oct 26,2009, www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/vaccine-week-a-brief-history-and-how-vaccines-work-18814542/#elQKcUgGl4U2ME7w.99