Vaccine History: An Era Gone By

Blumgarten, in his book, A Textbook of Medicine once again gives us more than instructions, he tells us a history lesson. From his words written so long ago we learn how Dr. Edward Jenner developed the first vaccine. Nurses Announcements Archive Article


Vaccine History: An Era Gone By

Just opening old medical books is fascinating. The faded yellow pages and poor quality pictures allow us to see how nurses studied in the early 1900s. Again, flipping through the pages, A.S. Blumgarten, M.D., F.A.C.P. book A Textbook of Medicine there is always something compelling to learn.

Have you ever wondered how vaccines originated? In order to understand the process, we look to the origin of the word. According to the online Etymology dictionary by Douglas Harper, the original Latin word "vacca" means cow. Hence "from cows" is derived from the Latin word vaccinus. In 1800, a British physician, Edward Jenner used the word vaccination to describe the cowpox virus/ vaccinia (variolae vaccinae). This virus from cows began the whole process of how we immunization today.Blumgarten wrote in his book that he believed cowpox and smallpox were related. He was correct, they are comparable. Cowpox is milder than smallpox and can be transmitted from animals to humans. Although the cow is the culprit in this article, rodents also carry the cowpox virus.When farmers milked their cows, they touched the udders. On the udders could be pustules and the method of transmission began. Once contaminated with the virus, the farmer developed low grade fever, and pustules on their hands.

Sir Edward Jenner noticed that people developed an immunity to the virus with successive exposures. From that he realized that using artificial exposure worked just as well. Jenner developed the vaccine by making scratches on the skin and infecting the scratches with the contents from the pustules.

The third day after exposure the area became red and raised progressing to a blister. Once the inflammation lessened a scab formed then eventually fell off, leaving a scar. The vaccine often caused a headache, low grade temperature, and swollen glands on the affected extremity. In order to maintain immunity, the cowpox vaccine had to be repeated every seven years.

Modern vaccines are made by different processes. Some are derived from altered or weakened live viruses, others are inactivated viruses or just segments of the pathogen. According to the CDC, immunizations have made some diseases like polio and diphtheria very rare. Although some diseases have become sporifice, vaccinations need to continue in order not to move backwards. If we were to stop immunizing ourselves we would be overwhelmed with comeback diseases causing epidemics.The CDC emphasizes that we vaccinate to protect not just ourselves, our children but grandchildren. In other words, future generations depend on us to keep as many diseases at bay that we can. Japan gave us a good example concerning pertussis.

In 1974 Japan minimized pertussis which is whooping cough, by vaccinating 80% of the children. There was only 393 cases and no deaths that year compared to over 13,000 cases in 1979 with 41 deaths because they didn't feel they needed to vaccinate. They became comfortable and listened to rumors that the vaccine was unsafe and was no longer needed.

Beginnings of anything are often rudimentary but necessary building blocks in developing any treatment or medication. Vaccines were launched because one doctor noticed how his patient's symptoms decreased with subsequent exposures. It is a reminder that one person can change millions of lives.Our journey as nurses is a lifetime of learning. The best nurses are those who are willing to be taught. There are countless methods for us to use in our studies, but the day to day lessons our patients teach us is invaluable. Who knows? You may be the next Jenner.

I hope you enjoyed this sixth in the series of "An Era Gone By".

For more information on vaccines visit the CDC website Vaccines: Vac-Gen/Why Immunize?


Blumgarten, A.S., M.D., F.A.C.P. A Textbook Of Medicine. The Macmillan Company: New York, 1930. Print.

CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccines & Immunizations. "Why Immunize?". 8 March, 2015. Web.
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With a title like "Udderly Amazing", I was expecting an article on mammaries. ?

Perhaps 'Utterly' might have been the correct choice? ;)

RNsRWe said:

With a title like "Udderly Amazing", I was expecting an article on mammaries. ?

Perhaps 'Utterly' might have been the correct choice? ;)

(I assume it was a reference to the cows and cowpox ...)

Specializes in Peds, Med-Surg, Disaster Nsg, Parish Nsg.

Direct contact with the cowpox udders of infected cows was the mode of transmission of cowpox.......the udder mammaries played a role in the development of vaccines....... Amazing.

Specializes in Critical care, tele, Medical-Surgical.

In Renaissance England people admired a milkmaid's beautiful complexion. Anything written about why they had such lovely skin mentioned diet and fresh air.

Until Edward Jenner.

Jenner had his Eureka moment about milkmaids

.In English literature and poetry milkmaids are referred to for their creamy complexion, as pretty as a milkmaid, Ruggere says. One of the reason they had such nice complexion was they didn't get smallpox.

A Cow Head Will Not Erupt From Your Body If You Get A Smallpox Vaccine . News | OPB

HA! My bad! I read the thing, focusing on vaccines, and totally blew the "udder" reference.

Seems sleep deprivation becomes more apparent as I get older! :confused: