The Effectiveness and Efficiency of Vaccines on Human Beings: Smallpox, Polio, Yellow Fever


In this paper, I will be examining as to how vaccines are able to increase our immunity to diseases and allow for them to be eradicated from ever afflicting humanity again. First, we will be looking at the science of vaccines, explaining what they are and how the inoculation process allows for our body to gain that immunity. Then, I will show several historical examples as to how vaccines such as the smallpox vaccine, which was the first vaccine created by Dr. Edward Jenner, the polio vaccine, which was developed by Dr. Jonas Salk in the United States, and the yellow fever vaccine, developed by Dr. Max Theiler, were able to effectively eliminate the further spread of these diseases. Finally, I will look at the controversies surrounding vaccination such as the notion that vaccines will cause great bodily harm, that vaccines are not effective in disease prevention, and that vaccines can cause autism in children. I will provide the facts to show that these ill-conceived notions are nothing more than hysteria and pandemonium from an uninformed group of people wanting to rile up the fears of others. As well, I will provide the evidence as to what would happen if we do not vaccinate, looking at recent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.

The Effectiveness and Efficiency of Vaccines on Human Beings

Since the beginning of human civilization, human has faced a constant threat to its people: disease. Diseases such as tuberculosis, smallpox, polio, and yellow fever to name a few ravaged clusters of humans affecting and even killing millions as a result of their existence. However, with the development of vaccines, a method of treatment to procure an immunity to an illness, humanity was able to now fight back against their long-time foe. Since their inception, vaccines have been effective to that has been able to increase our immunity to diseases and allow for them to be eradicated from ever afflicting humanity again. Today, this paper will cover the science of vaccines, explaining what they are and how the inoculation process allows for our body to gain that immunity as well as several historical examples as to how vaccines such as the smallpox vaccine, which was the first vaccine created in 1796 by Dr. Edward Jenner, the polio vaccine, which was developed in the 1950s by Dr. Jonas Salk in the United States, and the yellow fever vaccine, developed by Dr. Max Theiler in 1938, were able to effectively eliminate the further spread of these diseases. Last but certainly not least, this paper will address the controversies surrounding vaccination such as the notion that vaccines will cause great bodily harm, that vaccines are not effective in disease prevention, and that vaccines can cause autism in children. The facts show that these ill-conceived notions and misconceptions are nothing more than hysteria and pandemonium from an uninformed group of people wanting to rile up the fears of others so that they could gain their time in the limelight. Unfortunately, the research here today will also look at the consequences of this misinformation as it has led to the recent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and chicken pox outbreaks here at home and abroad.

The Inoculation Process

The process of inoculation requires a rudimentary understanding of the human immunity system. In basic terminology, the body’s immune system sends out macrophages, or cells that stop foreign invaders of the body, to target, identify, and eliminate the threat. After the threat has been neutralized by the police force of the body, a special genetic marker is created inside the body. From there on out, should that same invader returns to infiltrate the body, the immune system will already have pre-programmed antibodies ready to eliminate that invader. Vaccines work in that they introduce the foreign invader in a weakened or dead state. When the vaccine is injected into your body, the disease in a weakened state enters the body via the bloodstream. From there on out, the macrophages target, destroy, and mark the disease so that the future antibodies can be pre-positioned to eliminate the disease should your body come in contact with it again. The body’s immune system will always remember the make-up of the disease, allowing for you to only be vaccinated a few times in order for it to be effective.

The Historical Successes of Vaccines

Since their inception in 1796 by renowned English physician Dr. Edward Jenner, vaccines have proven to be effective throughout the course of history as long as they have been around. From conquering diseases like tuberculous and hepatitis B and C, vaccines have allowed for human beings to not only avoid these diseases but live longer as a result of it. The three most extraordinary historical successes in regard to vaccines are the yellow fever vaccine, the polio vaccine, and last but certainly not at all least the smallpox vaccine.

The Yellow Fever Vaccine: A Savior for the Tropics. 

As the 19th century drew to a close, the world was gripped in mass fear as disease ravaged the tropical portions of the world ranging from Asia, and Africa, to even portions of South America and the Caribbean. This disease was known around the world as yellow fever. The disease would affect those afflicted by causing high-grade fevers, vomiting, convulsions, seizures, immense pain, and jaundice, or the change of the skin to yellow, for which yellow fever procured its nickname from. Many in the world pandered for a cure, but many attempts proved fruitless. During the early 1900s, the United States of America put together a commission of the best medical professionals in the country to try and develop a vaccine for the yellow fever epidemic known as the Rockefeller Foundation supported financially by the Rockefeller’s massive cash capital from their oil empire. This was especially urgent as the country was in the midst of constructing the Panama Canal. During construction, millions of workers contracted and died from yellow fever as a result of the mosquito-borne illness. Although the foundation failed to get a cure for yellow fever then, they were able to get the man who would create the cure by the name of Dr. Max Theiler. Dr. Theiler was a South African white male born into a family of veterinary bacteriologists or people who studied the bacteria that affect animals. Theiler had just graduated from Harvard medical school and was eager to study more about the spread of disease particularly yellow fever as his native South Africa was a hotspot for yellow fever back then.  Theiler was later funded by the foundation to conduct research into the development of a yellow fever vaccine. By 1937, Theiler managed to isolate the bacterium that caused the disease and successfully conducted mice trials to see if his vaccine would work. However, World War II occurred leaving his work to go unrecognized as the war raged on. Yet, during this time, Theiler with the support of the foundation conducted human trials in South Africa to resounding success. This led not only to the elimination of yellow fever as a deadly disease but also earned Theiler a Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1951, the first South African to receive a Nobel Prize. 

The Polio Vaccine: A Miracle for Humanity. 

During the early 1900s, America was ravaged by a literal crippling disease. Countless children were paralyzed and disabled with many even dying from the plague called polio. Polio is a virus that causes paralysis of the body by inflaming the muscular system of the body, restricting the free flow of the muscles. Polio as well even affected adults most notably former US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt or FDR for short causing him to spend most of his presidency in a wheelchair. Roosevelt even died towards the end of World War II while serving his fourth term in office as a result of complications due to polio. As polio ravaged America, one man sought to end this all, a man named Dr. Jonas Salk. Salk was a virologist and a recent graduate of the New York University School of Medicine. During this postwar time, the United States was in the midst of one of the worst polio outbreaks in years. According to WHO, an estimated 4,000 people died, and another 32,000 people were paralyzed just in 1952 alone as a result of polio. The country was in a panic. Salk knew the situation was dire as a growing public fear over the disease could lead to mass panic. Because of this, Salk worked vigorously in his lab day and night in an attempt to manufacture a vaccine for polio. In July of 1952, after successful trial runs with mice in his lab, Salk decided to test it on humans starting with himself, his family, and his lab assistants. After a few weeks of taking such a drastic risk, the vaccine proved effective. This led Salk to mass-produce the vaccine testing it on one million youth in 1954 known now today as the Polio Pioneers. The large-scale test was a success as none of the kids acquired polio. This led to the mass vaccination of virtually all Americans. By the end of the decade, polio was gone in the United States as well as most parts of the world. Today, WHO has confirmed that the polio vaccine is one of the most essential and effective tools at the disposal of humanity. As well, the CDC states that there have only been less than 20 isolated cases of Polio in the rural parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. This means that polio is virtually extinct from our world today. 

Smallpox: Eradicated from Existence. 

The history of vaccines would not have begun without the inception of the first vaccine the smallpox vaccine. Smallpox is a disease that commonly causes fevers, rashes, intense pain, as well as the rapid development of fluid-filled bumps on the skin of the person. Smallpox had been a thorn in humanity’s time going as far back as ancient times. The affliction often left those who acquired it with scarring of the tissue as well as hearing loss in some cases. The plague is so well-known as to have wiped out the Native American empires from the mighty Aztecs to the powerful Incans. The global level of smallpox was on epidemic proportions as the disease is very communicable. This led to centuries of study and pondering on how to eliminate this disease. Fortunately, in 1796, Dr. Edward Jenner noticed that one of his cow maids who contracted cowpox earlier in the month no longer contracted smallpox even as outbreaks were commonplace in London at the time. Jenner hypothesized that if humans were exposed to cowpox then it could prevent the development of smallpox as well. This led him to develop what now is known as the smallpox vaccine, the first vaccine in human history. The first test trial of his vaccine was funded by Catherine the Great in 1796 to a child who was called “Vaccinov” and was observed by the Russian state. The new vaccine spread rapidly around the developed world with many global powers now requiring vaccination for smallpox. Over time smallpox dwindled but persisted. However, in the 1970s, the WHO led an effort to eliminate smallpox for good. By 1980, the smallpox virus was eradicated from humanity, the first time a mass vaccination effort in human history was able to eliminate the disease entirely. This has led the world to continue to develop and eliminate these diseases with vaccines so just like smallpox, they too can be removed from ever harming someone again.

The Concerns about Vaccines

Even though vaccines have a proven track record as a safe an effective way at control disease, that has not stopped people in recent years to question the validity and safety of these vaccines. The likelihood of being harmed by a vaccine severely is slim to none. This movement known as the antivaccination movement is led by those who are called anti-vaxxers, or people who refuse to vaccinate due to the fact vaccines could cause autism or paralysis. Although these choices seem good in nature, they actually cause harm not only to the unvaccinated child but the other children around them who are now exposed to these diseases. This is due to what the World Health Organization deems as “their callous disregard for the science of vaccines as well as the safety of others.” This unfounded fear has led to deadly consequences for many across the globe.

Autism: Myth or Fact? 

One of the biggest issues pushed out about vaccines is that they lead to the cause of autism in the child. This idea as again restated by C. Haberman in his New York Times piece “A Discredited Vaccine Study's Continuing Impact on Public Health,” is just not true at all. There is no correlation at all between the development of autism and the vaccination of children. That 1988 report that appeared in The Lancet by Dr. Andrew Wakefield in which he claims that the MMR vaccine causes autism was not only retracted and apologized for, Wakefield lost his medical license to practice as a result of the bogus claim. For those who do not know what causes autism, the simple answer is it is caused by an abnormally low amount of brain activity in the social center of the brain due to usually genetics or developmental mishaps inside the womb. Vaccines in no possible way can alter the neural network activity of the brain to cause the social ineptness that autism is associated with.

Vaccination Misinformation. Even though bogus claims about the dangers of vaccines are constantly proven as fake, they still persist in the minds of many of the people and as well as the Internet. The Internet today has allowed for the spread of many fake news stories. The goal of these fake stories by those who write them is to rile up a group of people and make them do something irrational that will cause more harm to not only themselves but others as well. Because the Internet remains unchecked by regulations, these stories run wild with claims that vaccines caused my son to get a lazy eye to my daughter was paralyzed by the MMRV vaccine. Some in the media today such as Quick and Larson believe that the only way to end this spread of misinformation is to allow the Internet’s media to be regulated just like hospitals and businesses are in order it benefits the well-being of the world.

Consequences of the Hysteria. As a result of the spread of false information leading to the rise of the anti-vaccination movement, the return of some once nearly destroyed diseases has concerned many in the world. According to reporting conducted by CNN’s Calvin and McGovern, an estimated 110,000 died from measles in western countries with measles vaccinations in the year 2017. That number is utterly shocking considering that the countries these numbers were taken from were in more developed countries with solid medical systems. As of this year, Europe is suffering the highest epidemic of measles since before the vaccine was developed as a result of years of failing in the vaccination of the youth. This inaction in Europe now has even caused other countries to get outbreaks of measles, most recently in Costa Rica where a 5-year-old unvaccinated boy with measles reintroduced the virus to Costa Rica after having it be extinct in the country for the past five years. This anti-vaccination movement has not only affected Europe and Latin America but Asia as well. Recently in the Philippines, misinformation about vaccines killing people has led to a resurgence in measles in the Philippines after nearly eradicating the disease from the country several years ago. Although the damage is hitting foreign lands, at home, the movement has led to damage here at home as well. The ability to refuse vaccinations due to personal reasons in many states, it has created the environment for outbreaks across the country. Back in 2015, a massive outbreak of measles occurred in Disneyland in California as a result of unvaccinated children. The CDC did a report after the outbreak concluding that if we do not put a kibosh on this anti-vax movement, our country will suffer more epidemics like this one. Yet, their ominous warning foreshadows a recent outbreak of measles just this past year. In February 2019, the state of Washington endured a massive outbreak of measles with hundreds of reported cases in one month alone. The disease spread rapidly due to the concentration of unvaccinated children in those afflicted areas. Because of this lunacy, children are dying and suffering as the result of the uninformed actions of their parents. They have done far more damage than anyone could have imagined.


Diseases have battled with humans for centuries. For years they have always been one, but now we have a weapon to destroy them in vaccines. The development of the vaccine has allowed for the near eradication of yellow fever, polio, and the eradication of smallpox. Vaccines have been proven for many years to be a safe and effective tool in the ever-long war with the disease. However, as a result of misinformation, many dangerous diseases are on the rise in developed nations, concerning many of the world’s leading health experts. Some countries like for example Burma where a chicken pox outbreak has occurred, or Madagascar where measles outbreaks are occurring at alarming rates this past month are reminders of a world without vaccines where diseases like those ran rampant and killed millions. It is reasonable to think that the developed world should lead by example and help those countries like Madagascar and Burma who need help in controlling their diseases with vaccines. We should not throw away our greatest weapon to fight disease, but rather continually improve it so that we are able to one day eliminate all the diseases that plague mankind today. Maybe one day in the future we will live in a disease-free world. Only time will tell what actions we take, but hopefully, we take the path of reason and science rather than the path of impulse.


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07 July 2022
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