Vaccines: What You May Not Know

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March 9th, 2012

The Synapse Weekly – vaccinate yourself!

Open wide for polio immunity!   Credit | Julien Harneis via Wikimedia Commons

Open wide for polio immunity! Credit | Julien Harneis via Wikimedia Commons

I recently wrote about FDR, poliovirus, and the polio vaccination. It was a pretty interesting article, if I do say so myself. (If you don’t believe me, check it out here.) Unfortunately, the blog was not long enough to discuss the history and science of vaccinations – so this week, I present a list of FUN VACCINATION FACTS!

1. Vaccines improve immunity to disease.

Let’s start with the basics – a definition will do. In brief, a vaccination is a suspension of weakened toxic or organic material that is introduced into another organism to prevent disease.1

2. Immunization technology originated in China.

Smallpox is a deadly disease named for the characteristic pockmarks that appear on the skin of the infected. Smallpox is easily spread and often infects children. Because of this, the desire to prevent infection was strong.

Innovators in ancient China found an easy way to increase immunity: just snort some ground-up scab from a person infected with smallpox.2 For all those people out there not into huffing tiny bits of scab, immunization could also be administered by grounding material from smallpox sores into the skin.2 The use of diseased organic material to increase immunity is thought to have originated around 1000 CE.2

3. Jenner checks out milkmaids, creates smallpox vaccine.

Checking out the local help... For science!  Credit |

Checking out the local help for science! Credit |

By the late 1700s, it was well-known that immunity to smallpox was related to exposure of material from another infected individual. This practice is called variolation, and was practiced by wealthy people in the early 18th century.2

The country doctor Edward Jenner applied this knowledge after learning that milkmaids were often unaffected by smallpox after suffering hand sores.2, 3 These sores are from the disease known as cowpox, a smallpox-related disease that is passed from cow-to-cow and (sometimes) cow-to-human.3 After finding a milkmaid suffering cowpox, Jenner ran a needle through the sore.2 This same needle was used to inoculate an eight-year-old boy named James Phipps.3 After exposure to the disease, Phipps did not suffer infection.3 Jenner published his findings, calling his new preventative technique a “vaccine”.3

4. Vaccines have almost always been controversial.

Edward Jenner’s vaccination was met with some derision; after a decade of public promotion of the vaccine, Jenner withdrew from the public eye.3 Today, the controversy continues, largely over vaccination side-effects. The controversy is best demonstrated in the various political, social and religious associations that question vaccination safety and effectiveness.

5. Rabid dogs used to roam the streets of Paris in force.

During the summer of 1880, a Parisian veterinarian grew concerned about the number of rabid dogs in the city, and sent samples of infected dog brain to Louis Pasteur’s lab.3 Five years after receiving these samples, Pasteur developed a vaccine for rabies.3

6. Vaccinations are not related to autism.

In 1998, Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a paper in The Lancet that linked autism with vaccinations.4 After the publication, several doctors and scientists questioned the research, urging a more detailed investigation. In 2004, a group of scientists reviewed Wakefield’s article and found that there was no link between vaccines and autism.5 Further investigation shows that Wakefield was funded by a lawyer suing a vaccine company.
In 2010, Wakefield’s article was formally retracted by The Lancet.6

7. Early vaccinations were often tested on family members.

Famous researcher Salk tested his polio vaccination on his family.2 On the next level of insanity: Dr. Hilary Kaprowski tested his polio vaccination on himself.2

8. There is a temple dedicated to the power of vaccinations.

This fact is half true – Edward Jenner (of smallpox vaccination fame) built a one-room shack in his backyard to vaccinate people for free. He called this building the “Temple of Vaccinia”.3


1 Encyclopædia Britannica. (2012). vaccine. Retrieved from

2 College of Physicians of Philadelphia, The. (2012). The history of vaccines: Timeline. Retrieved from

3 Riedel, Stefan. (2005). Edward Jenner and the history of the smallpox vaccine. Retrieved from

4 Hensley, Scott. (2010). NPR. Lancet renounces study linking autism and vaccines. Retrieved from

5 Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. (2004). Immunization safety review: vaccines and autism. Retrieved from

6 Lancet, The. (2010). Retraction—Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis,  and pervasive developmental disorder in children. Retrieved from

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