Vaccinations: From Smallpox to Cancerby Margaret O. Hyde, Elizabeth Held Forsyth
This began to change in the 1700s. The first vaccines prevented people from
At one time, there were no vaccines to protect people against disease. People who became ill with diseases such as polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, measles, and mumps sometimes died. If they survived, they suffered lasting ill effects, such as paralysis, muscle weakness, and pneumonia.
This began to change in the 1700s. The first vaccines prevented people from developing smallpox, a deadly disease. In 1796, an English doctor named Edward Jenner showed that cowpox, a similar but relatively harmless illness, could be used to protect people against smallpox. This disease has been completely eliminated -- the last naturally occurring outbreak of smallpox occurred in 1977.
Vaccines are a safe and inexpensive way to protect people against disease. The practice of vaccination has made certain illnesses almost a thing of the past. Serious diseases that can be prevented by vaccination include hepatitis, tetanus, whooping cough, and chickenpox. Vaccines against HIV and cancer may become a reality in the future. Scientists are now developing and testing vaccines to protect people from these devastating illnesses.
You probably associate vaccinations with shots, but not all vaccines are injected. For example, the Sabin vaccine, which prevents polio, is an oral vaccine. In the future, some vaccines may be delivered in foods, such as bananas and potatoes.
Vaccines aren't perfect. No vaccine is 100 percent effective, and some people get a disease even after they have been vaccinated against it. Some people think vaccines are dangerous. True, they do cause serious reactions in a small number of people, but the benefits far outweigh the risks.
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