August 18, 2023
Understanding the truth about vaccines
By Rachel May Wilson

Every year, vaccinations improve millions of lives worldwide. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that childhood vaccinations prevent more than 4 million deaths each year globally. Yet, despite the lives saved, some still hesitate when it comes to getting vaccinated due to misinformation. The truth is, people have been trying to create vaccines since the 15th century. But it wasn’t until the late 1700s that the first successful vaccine was created.

The story behind the first vaccine began in 1774 when Benjamin Jesty made a breakthrough while testing his hypothesis that cowpox, a virus that affects cows and can spread to humans, could protect people from getting smallpox. This one hypothesis proved to be the key to Dr. Edward Jenner’s research. In May of 1796, Dr. Jenner created the first successful smallpox vaccine.

Did you know the word vaccination comes
from the Latin word for cow, vacca?

The discovery that people infected with cowpox were immune to getting smallpox was a lifesaver. With that important discovery made, Dr. Jenner went on to inoculate an 8-year-old boy with a sample collected from a milkmaid who had a cowpox sore on her hand. It was reported that the little boy had a few mild side effects but felt better within a few days. This was huge because back then smallpox was the world’s deadliest disease, killing more than 300 million people before the 1900s. And Dr. Jenner’s research on a vaccine for this disease played a large part in smallpox becoming the first disease to be eradicated from the world.

After that, scientists, doctors, and researchers raced to find vaccines for other diseases caused by viruses and bacteria. And as the decades rolled on, vaccines were developed for illnesses like fowl-cholera, yellow fever, rabies, hepatitis B, human papillomavirus (HPV), meningococcal disease, measles, mumps, polio, COVID-19, and many others. Unfortunately, despite all the research and the countless lives saved through the decades, some people are still hesitant to get vaccinated.

According to the European CDC, “vaccine hesitancy refers to a delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccination services. Vaccine hesitancy is complex and context-specific, varying across time, place, and vaccine type. It includes factors such as complacency, convenience, and confidence.”

To help dispel the myths, we created 2 infographics and a timeline to give you more information about vaccines. Once you’re done looking them over, share them. After all, the more people who understand how important vaccines are, and that you can also protect others who are unable to receive vaccines or who are at a higher risk for serious illness, the healthier we all will be.

FAQ about vaccines

What does it mean to be immune?

Being immune means that if your body ever gets exposed to a particular virus or bacteria, your body will quickly recognize it and fight it before it can make you sick.

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines work by mimicking disease-causing viruses and bacteria in order to train your immune system to recognize and fight these germs.

What’s inside a vaccine?

Vaccines contain only a tiny part of a killed or weakened virus or bacteria, which is just enough to stimulate the immune system but not enough to cause disease. This prepares the immune system so that it can respond quickly and strongly if that virus or bacteria ever enters your body in the future

Are vaccines safe?

Vaccines go through years of research and testing to make sure they’re safe and effective before they’re released to the public. Unfortunately, misinformation can raise concern among people.

Why do some vaccines require more than 1 shot?

Some vaccines give you lifelong protection. Others require more than one shot because your immune system has to build up enough immunity to fight the virus or bacteria. And some vaccines require a booster shot to re-train the immune system.

Common myths about vaccines

Myth 1: Immunity from a vaccine isn’t as good as your body’s natural immunity.

True & False — Natural immunity means that your body develops protection against a virus or disease by catching it. In some cases, natural immunity is stronger than the immunity you get with a vaccine, but that’s not always the case and can be risky. The World Health Organization recommends everyone who is able to receive a vaccine get vaccinated.

Myth 2: Vaccines have unsafe toxins in them.

False — When vaccines are created, they’ve gone through extensive laboratory tests and testing on animals before they’re ever given to people. And while it’s true that some extremely small amounts of chemicals like aluminum may be in some vaccines, no scientific evidence suggests that these low levels are harmful. In fact, some added chemicals can actually help boost your body’s immune response, improving the vaccine’s effectiveness.

Myth 3: Vaccines can cause autism in young children.

False — In the late 1990s, people worldwide began buzzing with vaccination fears due to a fraudulent and unethical study claiming vaccinations were the root cause of autism in 12 patients. After numerous studies involving hundreds of thousands of children, researchers and medical doctors found no link between vaccines and autism.

Examples of 2 large studies: Taylor B et al. Lancet. 1999;353:2026–2029. Dales L et al. JAMA.

Myth 4: A vaccine can cause the disease it’s trying to prevent.

False — A common misconception is that vaccines contain disease-causing germs. The truth is vaccines only have harmless parts of the disease-causing germs. These harmless parts are used to train your immune system’s T cells and to help make antibodies. When you get a vaccine, you may have headaches, muscle aches, and occasionally a fever because your immune system is being activated. But, it’s important to know that not all vaccines will give you these symptoms. So don’t worry if you get a vaccine and you don’t feel any different. It’s still working.

Myth 5: I can wait to get vaccinated until there is an outbreak.

False — Don’t wait! Get vaccinated. If there’s an outbreak, getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from getting sick. Waiting too long to get vaccinated can come with some serious risks ranging from hospitalization to even death. After all, it may take a few weeks for a vaccine to be fully effective and to provide protection against a disease-causing germ.

A timeline of vaccines

1796 – Dr. Edward Jenner developed the first successful vaccine for smallpox.

1872 – Louis Pasteur created the first laboratory-produced vaccine, a vaccine for fowl-cholera for chickens.

1885 – Louis Pasteur created a rabies vaccine that can be used after someone gets exposed to the disease.

1894 – Dr. Anna Wessels Williams discovered a strain of the diphtheria bacteria––the key to developing an antitoxin for the disease.

1937 – A vaccine for yellow fever was created by Max Theiler, Hugh Smith, and Eugen Haagan. By1938, over 1 million people were officially vaccinated from the disease.

1939 – Two bacteriologists, Pearl Kendrick and Grace Eldering, proved the effectiveness of their pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine.

1945 – The first influenza vaccine was approved for military use. By 1946, everyone could get it.

1952–1955 Jonas Salk set out to create a vaccine for polio. To test its effectiveness, Salk conducted a mass trial of over 1.3 million children in 1954.

1960 – Albert Sabin created a second type of polio vaccine that could be given orally as a drop on a sugar cube.

1963 – John Enders and his team turned their Edmonston-B strain of the measles virus into a vaccine.

1967 – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licensed the first-ever mumps vaccine.

1969 – Dr. Baruch Blumberg and microbiologist Irving Millman created the first hepatitis B vaccine using a heat-treated form of the virus.

1969 – The first rubella vaccine was licensed.

1971 – The MMR vaccine—a single vaccine—was developed to protect people from the measles, mumps, and rubella.

1980 – The World Health Organization declared that the world is officially free of the smallpox virus.

1985 – David H. Smith founded a company to help produce the first vaccine to protect people from diseases caused by the Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib).

2003 – The polio virus was eradicated from the Americas and Europe.

2006 – The first vaccine for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) was approved and became a key part of the effort to eliminate cervical cancer.

2020 – Almost one year after the first case of COVID-19 was identified, a vaccine was created to help.

2021 – A global vaccine stockpile was created to ensure people can be vaccinated if an outbreak ever occurs. The stockpile has vaccines for smallpox, meningococcal, yellow fever, oral cholera, and COVID-19.

For more articles like this and information on how Jumo Health creates age-appropriate, culturally sensitive, and relatable educational resources for patients and caregivers, subscribe to our newsletter.

Rachel May Wilson
Rachel is the director of creative copy at Jumo Health, as well as mom to a 10-year-old boy, a 7-year-old boxer, and a 13-year-old cat that puts up with them all. She has won numerous national and regional awards for her writing.

Jumo Health develops age-appropriate, culturally relevant, and relatable educational resources for patients and caregivers. We have experience serving diverse populations, covering more than 160 health topics across 80+ countries in 120+ languages. Our various digital, video, and print offerings use highly visual elements and research-backed health literacy strategies to ensure that everyone can understand and act upon complex medical information. We do this through familiar mediums – from comic books and animation, to virtual reality experiences and authentic documentary-style patient stories – all customized based on audience. Jumo Health collaborates globally with more than 180 advocacy groups and community organizations to promote access and to ensure unique patient experiences are accurately represented.

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