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How long it took to develop 13 vaccines in history

Coronavirus vaccine
A pharmacist prepares the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has infected nearly millions of people, and scientists raced to develop a vaccine at record speed.
  • But vaccines often take years, and sometimes even decades, to develop, test, and approve for public use.
  • Here's how long it took to develop vaccines for infectious diseases throughout history, including COVID-19.

Across the world, scientists worked at record speed to develop a successful vaccine for coronavirus, which has infected nearly 640 million people and has killed over 6.6 million. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists were about to develop and distribute shots to prevent those infected from severe illness. 

In the US, vaccine development undergoes a specific set of steps that includes exploratory phases, pre-clinical trials, new drug application, four phases of vaccine trials, and thorough vetting from the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.

All of that combined could take multiple years, and even then, it might not be as effective as hoped. But because of the severity of the pandemic, manufacturers and leading scientists have made efforts to shift funding and expedite the process to yield results as quickly as possible.

To gain some perspective on the complexities of vaccine development, here's how long it took to develop vaccines for other infectious diseases throughout history.

Smallpox
Smallpox vaccine
A teenage boy is vaccinated against smallpox by a school doctor and a county health nurse, Gasport, New York, 15th March 1938.

The eradication of smallpox through a vaccine is seen as one of the biggest achievements in public health history — but it took several centuries to get there.

The origins of smallpox are unknown, though scientists believe it dates all the way back to the Egyptian Empire of the 3rd Century BCE. By the 18th century, colonization spread the disease across the globe. It had a devastating mortality rate of up to 30%.

In 1796, Edward Jenner in the UK created the first successful smallpox vaccine, but it wasn't until the 1950s that vaccine treatments began to effectively eradicate the disease in some parts of the world.

Then, in 1967, a global effort that provided a higher level of vaccine production and advancement in needle technology eventually lead to the eradication of the disease by 1980.

To date, smallpox remains the only disease to have been completely eliminated around the world through vaccination efforts.

Plague
black death bubonic plague
People praying for relief from the bubonic plague, circa 1350.

Plague is one of the world's oldest and most lethal diseases, culminating in nearly 200 million deaths throughout human history. But to date, no licensed vaccine is available.

Plague is perhaps most notorious for killing millions of people during the Middle Ages, but the disease is still active in areas around the world. As recent as 2017, a plague outbreak in Madagascar attracted widespread attention and panic.

However, since plague is a disease spread by bacteria, the advent of modern antibiotics can be used as treatment. Even so, researchers believe that vaccination development is the most viable option to prevent the spread of disease in the long term.

Many failed attempts have been made to create a plague vaccine in the past – including one that was made in the US to inoculate soldiers during the Vietnam War.

But in 2018, the WHO created a Plague Vaccine Target Product Profile, which lists 17 possible candidates for vaccine approval, which are undergoing clinical trials and moving toward FDA approval. 

 

Typhoid Fever
Typhoid Mary
New York, NY- Mary Mallon(1870?-1938), known as "Typhoid Mary". She was the first person identified as a carrier of typhoid bacilli in the United States.

Typhoid fever is a deadly disease that can be spread widely through food and water. Though relatively uncommon in industrialized areas, it remains a significant threat in developing nations throughout Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Two vaccines are commercially available to prevent typhoid fever. After the bacteria responsible for the disease was discovered in 1880, German scientists first began research into these efforts in 1896.

In 1909, US Army physician Frederick F. Russell developed the first US typhoid vaccination. For the next several years, the vaccine would be used for military purposes, but in 1914, it became available among the general American public.

Today, Typhoid fever is uncommon in the US and vaccinations are not commonly recommended for routine use.

Yellow Fever
yellow fever vaccination
A nurse prepares a vaccine against yellow fever at an outpatient clinic in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on January 12, 2018.

In 1951, Max Theiler became the first and only scientist to receive a Nobel Prize for the development of a vaccine. His efforts to control yellow fever are widely praised by the scientific community, and he helped to correct years of misled research.

Yellow fever has caused deadly epidemics throughout human history for more than 500 years, and by the end of the 19th century, it was well known to be a threat around the world. But little was known about the disease itself, and early vaccination efforts at the close of the century mistakenly focused on bacterial transmission when it's actually caused by a virus.

In 1918, researchers working for the Rockefeller Institute developed what they thought was the first successful yellow fever vaccination — but in 1926 Theiler proved otherwise and the faulty vaccine ceased production.

Over a decade later, in 1937, Theiler created the first safe and effective yellow fever vaccination, which has since become the universal standard.

Influenza
1918 flu in Oakland
Volunteer nurses from the American Red Cross tend to people with the flu in the Oakland Auditorium in Oakland, California, during the influenza pandemic of 1918.

Influenza has a long, tragic history of killing millions of people worldwide. During the 1918 influenza pandemic, there were no known cures or vaccinations for the virus.

Starting in the 1930s, it took decades of research to understand the complexities of the influenza virus, and it wasn't until 1945 that the first vaccine was approved for use in the US.

But just two years later, in 1947, researchers concluded that seasonal changes in the composition of the virus rendered existing vaccinations ineffective.

Researchers realized that two main types of influenza viruses occur — influenza A and influenza B, along with multiple new strains of the virus each year. Because of this, scientists have to tweak the influenza vaccine every year.

Today, seasonal flu vaccines are designed by the WHO using data gathered from influenza surveillance centers to develop a new vaccination based off the three strains most likely to circulate in the upcoming season.

Polio
FILE PHOTO: A boy receives polio vaccine drops, during an anti-polio campaign, in a low-income neighbourhood in Karachi, Pakistan April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro
A boy receives polio vaccine drops, during an anti-polio campaign, in a low-income neighborhood in Karachi, Pakistan, on April 9, 2018.

Measles, Mumps, and Rubella are viral infections that have each caused widespread, deadly disease outbreaks. Throughout the 1960s, individual vaccines were developed for each of them, but a decade later, they were combined into one.

Measles was the first of the three to receive its own vaccine in 1963, followed by mumps in 1967, and rubella in 1969. Two years later, in 1971, Maurice Hilleman of the  Merck Institute of Therapeutic Research developed a combined vaccination that would provide immunity for all three viruses.

Hilleman was credited with creating the first measles and mumps vaccine and began researching ways to incorporate a system of immunity for each virus. Using his previous research and a rubella vaccine developed by Stanley Plotkin in 1969, he created the first successful MMR vaccine in just two years.

According to the CDC, "One dose of MMR vaccine is 93% effective against measles, 78% effective against mumps, and 97% effective against rubella."

"Two doses of MMR vaccine are 97% effective against measles and 88% effective against mumps."

Anthrax
Anthrax
A biological technician wearing a Level C PAPR protective suit climbs up a ladder to inspect a decontamination tent covering Smailholm village hall in southern Scotland March 6, 2007. The technician is part of a team who are currently in the process of decontaminating the village hall which was the scene of an Anthrax outbreak in July 2006.

Anthrax is thought to have been around since 700 BC, but the first clinical account of the disease was recorded in the 1700s.

Throughout the 1800s, a series of studies to determine where the disease originated from, how long the bacteria could survive, and how the disease was transmitted through animals paved the way for the first attempts at a vaccine in 1881.

In 1937, scientist Max Sterne created a successful Anthrax vaccination to be used in livestock, a version of which is still used today, in order to reduce transmission from animals to humans. Thirteen years later, the first human vaccine was created and made available for people working in animal processing mills in the United States.

An updated anthrax vaccine was developed in 1970, which is largely what's used to prevent the disease in humans today.

Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR)
mmr vaccine
A nurse displays vials of measles vaccine at the Orange County Health Department on May 6, 2019 in Orlando, Florida.

Measles, Mumps, and Rubella are viral infections that have each caused widespread, deadly disease outbreaks. Throughout the 1960s, individual vaccines were developed for each of them, but a decade later, they were combined into one.

Measles was the first of the three to receive its own vaccine in 1963, followed by mumps in 1967, and rubella in 1969. Two years later, in 1971, Maurice Hilleman of the  Merck Institute of Therapeutic Research developed a combined vaccination that would provide immunity for all three viruses.

Hilleman was credited with creating the first measles and mumps vaccine and began researching ways to incorporate a system of immunity for each virus. Using his previous research and a rubella vaccine developed by Stanley Plotkin in 1969, he created the first successful MMR vaccine in just two years.

According to the CDC, "One dose of MMR vaccine is 93% effective against measles, 78% effective against mumps, and 97% effective against rubella."

"Two doses of MMR vaccine are 97% effective against measles and 88% effective against mumps."

Varicella (Chicken Pox)
chicken pox vaccine
Kiara Boisvert, 5, gets a varicella booster vaccination from Amy Moran, a clinical assistant at Intermed in South Portland on Thursday, June 4, 2015. (

Primary varicella infection, commonly known as chickenpox, was misdiagnosed as smallpox until the end of the 1800s. In the 1950s, scientists distinguished varicella from herpes zoster (shingles), and subsequent research lead to the development of first vaccine for chickenpox in Japan in the 1970s.

The vaccine was licensed for use in the US in 1995.

Shingles (herpes zoster)
shingles

Shingles, or herpes zoster, stems from the same virus that causes chickenpox. The only two ways shingles can develop is after an initial infection of chickenpox, or (uncommonly) exposure to a chickenpox vaccination.

The connection between shingles and chickenpox was first observed in 1953, and throughout the 1960s, studies indicated that shingles was much more common in older populations. But it wasn't until 2006 that the first commercially available vaccine was licensed in the US.

A more recent licensed vaccine for shingles came with a recommendation by the US Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices in 2018 that adults age 60 or older should be vaccinated for the disease.

Hepatitis B
Hep b vaccine
Vaccinations to help prevent Hepatitis A and B, where given by HEP Team to those interested, free of cost.

Hepatitis B is a more recent virus and was discovered by Dr. Baruch Blumberg in 1965. Just four years later, he created the first hepatitis B vaccine using a heat-treated form of the virus.

Twelve years later, in 1981, the FDA approved the first commercially available hepatitis B vaccination, which involved blood samples from infected donors.

Then, in 1986, a new synthetically prepared vaccine that does not use blood products replaced the original model.

Since Hepatitis B can cause liver cancer, the vaccine was also considered the first anti-cancer vaccine.

Human papillomavirus (HPV)
hpv vaccine
Pediatrician Richard K. Ohnmacht prepares a shot of the HPV vaccine Gardasil for a patient at his office in Cranston, Rhode Island, Sept. 3, 2015

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most commonly sexually transmitted disease in the US, and studies show that more than 80% of women will have contracted the virus at some point in their lives.

Two strains of HPV are thought to cause up to 70% of cervical cancer, which can result in hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. The link between HPV and cervical cancer was first made in 1981, and over two decades of research followed before a viable vaccine hit the market.

The first HPV vaccine was developed in the US in 2006, and subsequent research has led to the development of two more vaccines since.

Today, recommendations on what type of vaccine to get largely depend on age.

COVID-19
A woman picks up a Pfizer mRNA COVID-19 vaccine dose
Pfizer, along with BioNTech, used breakthrough mRNA technology to create its COVID-19 vaccine. The potential of this new tech could transform science, leaders at the company said.

The COVID-19 outbreak caused billions of people across the world to go on lockdown — disputing everyday life — to curb the spread of the highly contagious virus.

The coronavirus resulted in overcrowded hospitals, stressed out health workers, and pressure on officials who were pushed to create a vaccine to eradicate the pandemic. 

During the early stages of the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top disease expert, said in front of Congress that a vaccine could be developed by the end of 2020 or available for use in 2021.

In December 2020, Sandra Lindsay, a critical care nurse,  became the first person in the US to receive the jab outside clinical trials. 

"As a minority, I wanted to instill confidence in my people that look like me to say that it is safe, be guided by science, don't be afraid," Lindsay told Insider at the time. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, four vaccines have been greenlit in the US, including Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax

Per data, more than 12.97 billion vaccine doses have been administered worldwide and in the US, specifically, more than 611 million

 

 

 

Read the original article on Business Insider
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