Before the term “vaccination” was coined, millions died every year from infectious diseases such as smallpox, tuberculosis and yellow fever. But the birth of immunology brought with it cures for some of the world’s most deadly diseases. Click through the gallery to see who is credited with developing these life-saving vaccines:
You probably know Louis Pasteur as the man who invented pasteurization. But Pasteur also developed the first vaccines for rabies and anthrax. The French microbiologist grew rabies in rabbits first to weaken the virus. Then in 1885, he injected the vaccine into a 9-year-old boy who had been attacked by a dog; it was a success and Pasteur became famous.
Veterinarian Gaston Ramon used a formaldehyde solution to deactivate the toxic part of the diphtheria toxin, which allowed scientists to later inject inactive diphtheria into humans as a vaccine. Ramon’s discovery helped lead researcher P. Descombey to develop a similar toxoid for tetanus in 1924; it was first used in soldiers during World War II.
Dr. Edward Jenner is known as the founder of immunology. He first attempted vaccination against smallpox in 1796 by taking cowpox lesions from a dairymaid’s hands and inoculating an 8-year-old boy. On May 8, 1980, the World Health Assembly announced that smallpox had been eradicated across the globe. Samples of the virus are still kept in government laboratories for research as some fear smallpox could one day be used as a bioterrorism agent.
In 1900, Belgian physician Jules Bordet worked with Octave Gengou to isolate the microbe that causes bordetella pertussis, the pathogen that leads to whooping cough. The isolated bacterium was used to develop the pertussis vaccine. Bordet won the 1919 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work in immunology.
Camille Guerin, left, and Albert Calmette developed the Bacille Calmette-Guerin vaccine for tuberculosis disease. The vaccine was first used in humans in 1921, after 13 years of animal testing.
The CDC recommends 14 vaccines for American children younger than 6. Of those 14, microbiologist Maurice Hilleman developed eight, including the MMR vaccination and the FDA-approved vaccines for chickenpox, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, meningitis and pneumonia. After his death in 2005, Merck pharmaceuticals dedicated The Maurice R. Hilleman Center for Vaccine Manufacturing in Durham, North Carolina, to its most successful researcher.
Although many scientists contributed to the development of the current vaccine for yellow fever, Max Theiler was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1950 for his work. The South African researcher first inoculated mice through their brains, and then took a serum from the protected mice to inject in humans.
Dr. Jonas Salk was something of a scientific hero after developing the polio vaccine. Before it was widely used, more than 45,000 Americans contracted the virus each year. By 1962 — less than 10 years after it was first tested — the number of cases had dropped to 910, according to the Salk Institute. “Salk never patented the vaccine, nor did he earn any money from his discovery, preferring to see it distributed as widely as possible,” his biography on Salk.edu says.