Sunday, 3 January 2021

A brief timeline of Vaccinations

I am neither a doctor, nor biologist, nor historian. I first studied this for a lecture about Vaccination in Madras, for the Madras Local History Group. I have merely provided some dates and data, for an easier read.

Ignaz Semmelweiss


Before Sterilization and Germ theory

  • 1700s Lady Montague inoculates her children in Turkey, introduces vaccination to England
  •     English aristocrats inoculate their children
  • 1794 Edward Jenner starts variolation and vaccination
  • 1858 Great Stink of London, Thames cleaning begins
  •     Darwin-Wallace paper on Evolution presented by Lyell and Hooker
  •     Five of Darwin's children died in infancy (did vaccination not save them?)
  • 1864 Louis Pasteur discovers Germs cause diseases
  •     Antibodies, white blood cells discovered
  • 1847 Ignaz Semmelweiss discovers importance of sterilization, in Austria
  • 1848-1860 Political Turmoil in Europe
  • 1861 Semmelweiss campaigns for doctors to wash hands between surgeries
  •     Doctors refuse to wash hands, blood stains seen as symbols of valour
  • 1865 Semmelweiss sentenced and imprisoned in a lunatic asylum, for his sterilization campaign; dies 

After discovery of Sterilization

  • 1865 Lister advises Wash hands, use gloves, introduces anti-septics
  • 1860 John Snow discovers feces infested water causes cholera, campaigns for clean water. 
  •     John Snow: "Boil water before drinking"
  • 1861 Death by typhoid of Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria
  •     Campaign to clean up River Thames, London, build sewerage system
  • 1861 Europeanization of toilets, sewers.
  •     Globalization takes another century

Vaccination Laws in England

  •     1840 Free Vaccination
  •     1855 Compulsory Vaccination
  •     1867 Penalty to resist Vaccination

  • 1870 Robert Hooker: "Wallace has lost caste" (because Wallace explored spirituality, seances. Wallace also doubts that human mind evolved by Natural Selection)
  • 1890 Robert Koch : Different germs cause different diseases
  • 1896 Alfred Russel Wallace publishes book "Vaccination a Delusion, its penal enforcement a crime"
(This book by Wallace is out of print. A free version is available on Kindle, but very badly formatted)

I now suspend the timeline for some notes from Wallace's book

Wallace findings

  • Jenner: Less than 2000 deaths upto 1800
  • Parliament 1836: 5000 deaths before 1800
  • Dr Ernest Hart British Medical Journal 1880: 18,000 deaths per million
  • National Vaccination Society 1884: Before vaccination, 40,000 dead in England of pox
  • Wallace quip: "Dead were multiplying in the past"

Wallace observations

  • Villages and small towns rarely had deaths. Also far lower death rates than London
  • Filth diseases caused by foul air and water, decaying organic matter, overcrowding
  • Plague and leprosy not eliminated by vaccines but by marginal improvements in hygiene
  • Replaced by cholera, small pox etc as main killers
  • No careful tests were made with two groups one vaccinated, the other not
  • Doctors are bad statisticians
  • Royal Commission had no statisticians, but doctors, lawyers and politicians

Fortunately, unlike Semmelweiss, Wallace was not hounded into a lunatic asylum

(Gopu comment: Cheap cotton textiles, mainly imported from India via several East India Companies, from 1640 onwards, probably played a big role in improving European hygiene. As did the Cotton revolution in England from 1740 onwards.

Also cheaper coal because of James Watt engine made hot water far far cheaper. Average Europeans could bathe in winter almost as often as residents of tropics)

The Timeline continues...

PreModern Era of Medicine

  • 1890 German company Bayer invents Aspirin. Era of chemical medicine, pills, pharmaceutical industry begins
  • Insulin discovered
  • 1930s  Heroin, cocaine, all kinds of snake oil sold over the counter in USA
Modern Era of medicine
  • 1940 Sulfa, Antibiotics make Western medicine better than medicine of other nations for the first time in history (warning: this is only Gopu's opinion) 
  • Rate of decline of death rates go from 2% per year to 8% per year, some of it is credited to vaccines
  • 1945 Transistor invented. Integrated circuits follow soon. Electronic devices make research and medicine far superior in a short time
  • 1954 Polio vaccine invented
  • 1960 Measles mumps rubella (MMR) vaccine invented (Estimate 5000 deaths prevented in 20 years)
  • 1970 Smallpox eradicated
  • 1994 Plague suspected in Surat, Gujarat, India cut off from world for two weeks
  • 2000s Potential epidemics SARS, Ebola, swine flu, bird flu, curtailed before pandemic
  • 2020 January - COVID-19 Coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan, China; parts of Italy, USA; several air travelers
  • 2020 March - Global lockdowns begin
  • 2019 November - Announcements of several COVID-19 vaccines, from UK, USA, Russia, China

Explanatory Note

A small but vocal anti-vaccination movement is active in USA. Wikipedia calls is vaccine hesitancy. But such movements have been common throughout history, not just against vaccination, but against other new forms of medicine or science. Science usually wins, but frequently, what was considered turns out to be very unscientific - examples are : the four humours, phlogistons, phrenology, eugenics, vital forces theory, philosophers stone, Lysenko genetics, and possibly string theory.  Some of these people are extremely unscientific, religious (usually Christian - in the USA), some simply are suspicious of governments and doctors. 

If he were alive today, Alfred Wallace would also be labeled anti-vax and "denier". As his colleague Robert Hooker noted, "Wallace had lost caste."

Make of it what you will

Related Links

On Alfred Russel Wallace    

My essays on Biology 

Darwin's medical problems - and lousy medical treatment

Video of my lecture Vaccination in Madras (for Madras Local History)

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