On December 8, 2020, 90-year-old Margaret Keenan became the first person from the West to receive the Covid 19 vaccine. This generated a wave of joy worldwide to see a light at the end of the tunnel in the pandemic by Covid 19, but it also generated distrust among people who did not believe in having a vaccine in just a few months. But what is a vaccine? What is it for? How does it work? To answer this you have to look at history.

How does a vaccine work?

There are different ways:

The attenuated virus vaccine, which uses a previously inactivated or attenuated virus that does not cause the disease but does help to generate an immune response. The polio vaccine is one example.

The protein-based vaccine, which with protein fragments and components of the virus help the body to generate an immune response. Vaccines for hepatitis A and B, as well as flu vaccines fall into this category.

Viral vector vaccines use a modified version of a different virus to give the body instructions on how to act if the dangerous virus enters our body, for example: The Ebola vaccine

The mRNA vaccine is very similar to that of viral vectors, only in this case a different virus is not injected, but a substance created in a laboratory that contains information for our body to produce certain proteins that initiate the immune response. An example of this vaccine is the Pfizer-BioNTech currently used to prevent serious effects of Covid 19.

What was the first vaccine?

Dr. Edward Jenner is considered the father of the vaccine, thanks to his research published in 1798, where he explained that women who milked cows and were infected with cowpox developed immunity to common smallpox. So Jenner decided to make a hypothesis and test it.

Dr. Edward inoculated eight-year-old James Phipps with material from a cowpox sore on the hand of Sarah Nelmes. The boy suffered a local reaction and felt unwell for several days, but made a full recovery. This allowed his method to be tested and endorsed.

But this discovery was nothing new since the inoculation was used by Arab doctors of the 6th century who had successfully tested it on African, Chinese or Greek peasants and slaves.

Lady Mary Montagu, wife of the British ambassador in Istanbul, Edward Wortley Montagu, learned about this inoculation, 30 years before the birth of Dr. Jenner, on a trip to Turkey. So she decided to bring him to England since she herself had suffered from the disease in her childhood, which left marks for life on her face, and she even lost her 21-year-old brother for the same reason.

Convinced that the treatment worked, Lady Montagu decided to try it on her own son. On March 19, 1718, he applied the vaccine inoculation to his little Edward, who recovered after a few days without any setback. Sadly, her womanhood and distrust of the East led the doctors of the time to ignore the method, and they cannot be blamed. The idea of ​​Lady Mary contradicted everything they had learned: Injecting disease into a healthy person so that they do not get sick (¿?).

Later, the vaccine was seen by Princess Carolina, wife of King George II, and brought to the royal family. Thanks to this Lady Mary was able to inoculate six condemned to death, who would be released if they survived, six children from an orphanage and five from a hospital. They all survived.

The inoculation method was accepted by some and rejected by many others. Until, more than half a century later, in 1796, Edward Jenner published the report where he proved that cowpox, vaccinia, immunizes against common smallpox and thus reduces the percentage of deaths, approximately 30%, from this disease.

Other vaccines

As a result of this acceptance of Jenner’s work, more and more vaccines against diseases with high mortality began to emerge in the population.

On June 6, 1885, Louis Pasteur injected Joseph Meister with the first rabies vaccine. Preventing the disease from developing and saving his life.

Albert Calmette and his assistant Camille Guerin, at the Pasteur Institute, developed the vaccine against tuberculosis.

Max Theiler, a South African virologist, developed the vaccine against yellow fever, a disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes. This discovery would earn Theiler the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1951. Although in Africa, Central and South America there are still 47 countries in which the disease is endemic.

Other examples are diphtheria, measles, tetanus, polio, Hib, and Hepatitis B. Each with a developed and tested vaccine.

The 2011 Nobel laureate in medicine, Jules Hoffman estimates that vaccines have saved 1.5 billion lives worldwide, “It is the greatest achievement of medicine” he declared in 2015.

Why were the Covid 19 vaccines so fast?

According to the medical portal “History of vaccines” of the Philadelphia College of Physicians, developing a vaccine is a long and slow process, taking between 10 and 15 years, involving the participation of different countries, as well as public or private organizations.

The reason that there is a series of vaccines against Covid 19 in the midst of a pandemic is due to the urgency of obtaining it. Only in Mexico, during the year 2020, close to a million and a half infections and 127 thousand people died were registered.

Collaboration and priority for testing were supported by many countries, each developing its own vaccine. As a result, we have a variety of vaccines approved by governments and institutions that are beginning to be applied in the population where Margaret Keenan was the first of many people to receive her dose.

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