In the health crisis that we currently live in, everyone is waiting for the plank that represents the discovery of a vaccine that would protect us from the COVID-19. It is generally believed that it will be available within 24 months.
These days, it makes us immune to many diseases through vaccination. Some have even disappeared from the surface of the globe thanks to it.
However, some evils are still waiting for their own, such as HIV/aids. What is a vaccine and where does it come from?
Smallpox has been a disease that has wreaked havoc throughout history. She finds herself at the centre of research on vaccination.
Here is a small overview of the vast history of vaccines.
The Franceschina, to 1474, Saint Francis of Assisi caring for people with smallpox.
Since Ancient times, it was noticed that some individuals with an infectious disease not caught more once cured.
In the Middle Ages, the Chinese have exploited this observation by inoculating* pus from the pustules caused by the smallpox of children.
This treatment seemed to work, while remaining dangerous. In fact, 2% of children inoculated died as a result.
This is what has been called variolation, the ancestor of the vaccination.
* Inoculation is the intentional introduction of a virus in the human body.
2. The vaccination
Dr. Edward Jenner by James Northcote
At the end of the Eighteenth century, british physician Edward Jenner observed that cows with the cowpox, a disease very similar to smallpox in humans, but less severe.
It is also noted that the “milking” of these cows contracted cowpox seemed to be protected against smallpox when epidemics arose.
In 1796, it transmits the vaccine to a young child and, thereafter, it is the inoculate with the smallpox virus.
As he expected, the child does not develop the disease. He called his discovery of the vaccination.
Professor Louis Pasteur, prior to 1895, Paul Nadar, Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology.
At the end of the 1870s, Louis Pasteur understood that contagious diseases are spread between individuals by the intermediary of microbes. Moreover, it assumes that the vaccine of the cow was an attenuated form of smallpox.
He thus tests his theory by inoculating varieties attenuated diseases of animals, in particular with the cholera of the hen. The experience works. It thus expands the technique of dr. Jenner.
In 1885, he tested his theory on humans by inoculating the rage of a child who had been bitten by a rabid dog. The child does not develop the disease. It extends the experience of hundreds of adults and it is a success.
The vaccination was overflowing then smallpox, and if applied now to a number of diseases.
4. The anti-vaccine
Nowadays, many people oppose the vaccination, attributing to a number of diseases, including autism. This fear is not new.
In the Nineteenth century, despite the technical advances, the vaccination is in its infancy and it has not yet been proven undeniable. Several opposed it, believing that it will sow death rather than prevent it.
Curiously, this movement of anti-vaccine is mediated primarily by the medical world, some medical doctors warning of the dangers of vaccination.
In 1885, an epidemic of smallpox is sweeping over Quebec, and it is particularly virulent in Montreal. We then impose the vaccination. The refractory are subject to fines and even imprisonment.
It is in this context that on September 28, 1885, a riot of anti-vaccine broke out in Montreal. Rioters go so far as to set fire to the building of the Bureau of health. Nothing was won yet.
5. Vaccination at the Grosse-Île
Dr. Frederick Montizambert aboard the Challenger, his boat inspection, 1888, Livernois.
Dr. Frederick Montizambert was born in Quebec in 1843.
From 1859, he studied medicine at Laval University, and then at the prestigious faculty of medicine of the university of Edinburgh. In 1891, he attended the Johns Hopkins university of Baltimore where he is studying the germs of cholera and other contagious diseases.
It is therefore no surprise that in 1869, he was appointed medical director of the quarantine station of Grosse-Île. At this time, the government was annually updated Law of the quarantine. This Law required the boats to stop at Grosse-Isle, to be inspected and, in the case of a contagion to be quarantined.
In 1886, following the smallpox epidemic that had fallen upon Montreal the previous year, Dr. Montizambert obtains that the Law of the quarantine to include the requirement of a vaccination of the passengers if they had never had the smallpox, or if they could not prove that they had already received this vaccine.
In case of refusal of vaccination, the passenger recalcitrant was forced to do a quarantine at Grosse-Isle.
It is important to understand that at this time, smallpox was endemic in Europe and that all the passengers of the ships that entered the country were potential carriers.
6. Indelible memories
In the 1950s, school children in Quebec were vaccinated against tb with the BCG vaccine. They received no injection, but rather scratches made with a vaccinostyle.
It was a pen sharp metallic with the help of which we égratignait the back. We filed then drops of the vaccine. This practice has ceased in the 1960s, but many remember surely of this little ordeal.
Moreover, many young people are questioning the fact that their parents have a scar round like a piece of 10 under on the left arm. It is a mark left by a smallpox vaccine.
The injection produced small swellings like mosquito bites and, in drying, they formed a crust; in falling, the latter left this indelible mark.
People under 40 years of age do not have this scar since 1980, thanks to this vaccine, smallpox was officially declared as eradicated from the surface of the Earth. It no longer exists today in the laboratory. A proof that the vaccination is effective.
It is to be hoped that it will also remove measles, chicken pox and… the COVID-19.
A text by Jean-François Caron, a historian
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