SEATTLE — Many people believe vaccines started with Edward Jenner in 1796 with the smallpox vaccination. However, the first inoculation, or vaccination, actually occurred in 1718 and was carried out by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, a full 80 years prior to Jenner’s breakthrough. Lady Montagu learned the practice of inoculation from her research of Turkish customs. In attempts to save her son Edward, Lady Montagu had him inoculated. Today, smallpox is nearly eradicated from the global community. Lady Montagu is the first of many women in history pioneering vaccinations and contributing to increased focus on global health.
Further progress in the field of vaccinations occurred in the 1940s with doctors Pearl Kendrick and Grace Eldering. These women in history pioneering vaccinations primarily focused on the eradication of pertussis, also known as whooping cough. A successful clinical trial involved Kendrick and Eldering injecting the vaccine into their own arms as safety tests. After the vaccine’s success, the two scientists combined it with another to create what is known today as DPT — diphtheria and tetanus vaccine. This work led the creation of the modern-day DPT3 vaccination, combatting the main cause of high infant mortality rates globally. In 2015, the DPT3 vaccine covered 90 percent of infants, protecting and preventing the spread of pertussis globally.
Without the research done by Margaret Pittman, the world would not have a vaccine against Haemophilus Influenza Bacterium (HIB). Pittman discovered that there are six types of HIB that she labeled A through F. Type B was discovered to cause meningitis, pneumonia and other severe infections. Pittman’s discovery has led to research on many different strains of vaccinations to prevent these diseases. Global coverage of HIB vaccinations is at 80 percent. Its uptake is attributed to a fall in the cost of delivering it to developing countries and a larger emphasis on the vaccine’s importance on childhood coverage.
Isabel Morgan was a key player in the creation of the polio vaccine. She worked with a team of virologists at John Hopkins University in the 1940s to advance the understanding of polioviruses. The team disproved the hypothesis that only live viruses could produce immunity. By using monkeys, the team was able to prove that inactive or “killed” viruses could produce and build immunity. The work Morgan and her team did eventually led to Jonas Sulk’s polio vaccination in 1955. A polio eradication program was realized in 2013, and by the beginning of 2015, there was a reported 99.9 percent drop in cases worldwide.
Women in history pioneering vaccinations began a process that has benefited global health greatly and has changed the face of preventative medical procedures. In developing countries, there has been a stress on the importance of childhood vaccinations and the impact it may have 30-40 years in the future. Many new vaccines have been created since the work of these women and the field of vaccinations continues to grow and contribute to immunization successes in developing countries.
– Taylor Elgarten